Published Date: February 23, 2023

Insurance policies often contain clauses requiring policyholders to take reasonable steps to maintain an insured object. The reason therefore is quite simple – the purpose of insurance is to protect policyholders against unforeseen events, not to compensate them for wear, and tear.

A policyholder’s failure to maintain an insured object may result in any claim for damage stemming therefrom being rejected by their insurer. Policyholders should therefore understand their duty of maintenance and take appropriate steps to comply with it.

The examples below attempt to illustrate the risk wear and tear presents to policyholders:

  • Ms. Khumalo is the owner of a unit in a sectional title complex. She awoke one morning from the sound of water gushing through her kitchen. Upon inspection, she discovered that the water originated from a burst communal water pipe adjacent to her unit. The water damaged her wooden flooring and kitchen cupboards. Whilst the body corporate was insured for such damage, their insurer refused to entertain Ms. Khumalo claim because it was found that the water pipe had burst from wear and tear.
  • Mr. Jones is the owner of a logistic company, transporting fresh produce for shipment overseas. One morning Mr. Jones received a call advising him that one of his long-haul trucks had been in an accident, which had caused significant damage to both the truck and trailer. Mr. Jones’s insurer instructed an expert to investigate the cause of the collision. It transpired that the truck’s braking mechanism failed due to wear and tear, resulting in Mr. Jones’ insurer rejecting his claim.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Singh own a beachfront holiday home along the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. The couple’s insurance policy requires the property to possess a working alarm system. Upon arrival at the property one Easter holiday, the couple noticed that the property had been broking into and that the alarm system was not working. It transpired that the battery system of the alarm had failed due to wear and tear. The couple’s insurance claim was rejected due to their failure to maintain a working alarm system.

Below are some tips for policyholders to reduce the possibility of their claims being rejected:

  • First and foremost, policyholders should understand what is expected from them regarding their duty to maintain an insured object. Should it be unclear, they should seek clarity from their insurer and/or broker.
  • Routine maintenance should be performed to prevent larger problems occurring down the line.
  • Reputable and licensed (where applicable) contractors should be used.
  • Receipts should be kept as evidence of the repairs.
Jean-Paul Rudd
Partner | Attorney