Litigation Futures News recently reported on a motorist unwittingly becoming the victim of a misleading Google search which led him to believe his insurer was offering him a courtesy car whilst his own car was off the road following a multi vehicle pile up in snow.

He could have been liable for over £27000.00 worth of credit hire costs for the car had a Deputy District Judge at trial not believed that the motorist, a Mr Matthew McNally, did genuinely believe he had been dealing with his own insurance company. Beware – not an argument guaranteed to win every time!

Mr McNally used his smartphone to Google his own insurers after the crash to report the accident, get his car recovered and arrange a courtesy car.  What actually happened was that he contacted a claims marketing company who in turn referred him to a credit hire company. This is called “search engine ad spoofing”. He had used an ad looking like his own insurer. Mr McNally, thinking he had been referred by his own insurer, entered into a credit hire agreement for a courtesy car which he thought would be free. It wasn’t and the eventual charges were over £27000.000.

One could muse on what sort of vehicle Mr McNally was given and for how long he had it to run up that bill for a hire car. A new car outright would have been cheaper. It always strikes us as odd how insurers seek to blame injured motorists for every increase in premiums, yet completely fail to enquire into the costs run up by even genuine hire car companies.

Mr McNally explained to the judge at trial that he had been misrepresented into electronically signing documents which he didn’t understand and which had not been completed by the company prior to him signing. The former point will not always stand up, as you should always ensure you do know what you are signing and ask if you are not sure, but even the judge said that it was only in an “ideal world that everyone reads everything”, but don’t rely on a sympathetic judge.

You should at least understand the essence of what you are signing and what costs you could be letting yourself in for. Many documents, especially those signed at home or away from a company’s offices will have a “cooling off period” during which you can cancel with no penalty. Do be sure to ask about this. Do not sign documents that have not been filled in by the company, as you do not know what will be added after signature. Signatures will very often be binding unless good reason can be shown why not.

So do be very careful, even in an emergency situation as to who or what you are dialling on your phone. There are many fake companies with ads that look genuine. These companies offer services at a cost which then turn out to be free from the correct authorised site – help with passports for one, for instance.  If you have doubts, hang up and check again before re-dialling.  Perhaps even a good old fashioned little notebook (you remember those, surely? Don’t forget you’ll need a gadget called a “pen” to write in it with!) with important numbers in?

A few seconds checking could save you months of worry, not to say money.

Contact our Litigation team for more support and advice if you ever find yourself in a similar position.



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