Defenestrated dentists and burning whisky: insurer reveals weirdest commercial claims

Strange – but valid – business payouts from Aviva’s 325-year archive show need to plan for unexpected

Have you ever had an accident at work that wasn’t your fault? A delve into the archive of a major insurer has revealed some of the strangest valid commercial claims, including recompense for a defenestrated dentist and a farm worker blown into a vat of liquid manure.

The trawl through 325 years of business insurance claims received by Aviva also reveals instances where policyholders found themselves a part of events that would end up in history books.

They include investors who lost money in the 1963 Great Train Robbery and a fishmonger caught up in the 1984 Libyan embassy siege – the van was parked nearby and could not be moved until the siege ended, by which time the fish had rotted.

Among other notable claims unearthed as part of an exercise linked to the anniversary of its commercial lines arm was the £1,000 payout for the “Dundee whisky fire” of 1906. Eyewitnesses described “rivers of burning whisky” flowing through the Scottish city after a fire at the warehouse of the merchant James Watson & Co.

It might be nearly 60 years ago but the Great Train Robbery, in which £2.5m was stolen from the Glasgow to London Royal Mail train, continues to fascinate the British public. The Aviva archives reveal it paid out just over £1m to owners of securities that were among the loot. That sum equates to £59m in today’s money [see footnote].

The records also reveal that the insurer found itself on the hook after another dramatic heist, this time in the 1990s when thieves made off with “Woody the Cuprinol man”. The wooden figure, who appeared in the wood preserver brand’s TV adverts, was recovered with Aviva telling the special effects company to “lock Woody up at night”.

The trawl through history also reveals some tales of unexpected woe. A slightly built farm worker tasked with carrying large sheets of corrugated iron was carried away by a gust of wind and deposited into a liquid manure storage tank. According to the claim “the employee’s clothes were ruined”.

There is also an account of a dentist who similarly experienced a crash landing. In the early 1960s, they received a payout after being kicked out of a window by a patient coming round from an anaesthetic.

Perhaps predictably for an insurer, Nick Major, commercial lines’ managing director, suggested the long list of weird and wonderful claims showed “planning for the unexpected is good business practice”.

“Aviva has played an important role helping businesses protect what’s important to them, enabling them to continue to trade through good times and bad, something we have continued to focus on through the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

• This footnote was added on 25 January 2022 to explain Aviva’s £59m figure. To calculate, it opted for the “relative income” method (using the site). Had the “purchasing power” method been used, the £1,091,340 payout would have been roughly £20m in today’s money.


Zoe Wood

The GuardianTramp

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