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A man complained his insurer had an incorrect understanding of the term “off-roading”. His claim had been declined after his vehicle stopped in the middle of a river.

In May 2020, Mr Vaai* was driving his vehicle in a social 4-wheel driving event up a river. During the crossing, the motor flooded, and the vehicle stopped working.

Mr Vaai made a claim for the damage. The insurer declined the claim, finding there was an exclusion for off-roading in Mr Vaai’s policy, and the insurer believed that, because Mr Vaai was crossing the river in the vehicle, he was “off-roading”. Mr Vaai disputed the decision, arguing that “offroading” only applied to competitive events. He also stated that rivers were roads.

When interpreting a contract, the IFSO Scheme considers commercial common sense and the intention of the parties. It also considers definitions from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

•    “off-road adjective used, for use, or taking place away from roads; on or for rough terrain…”

•    “off-roading driving over rough terrain, driving off-road vehicles, esp. as a sport”.

The key factor in both definitions was “rough terrain”. The dictionary definition of “road” can be quite broad:

“A path or way between different places, usu. one wide enough for vehicles as well as pedestrians and with a specially prepared surface. Also, the part of such a way intended for vehicles, the roadway …”.

Section 2 of the Land Transport Act 1998 defines a “road” as nearly all land accessible by the public, including “fords forming part of a road …”.

Having considered these definitions, the IFSO Scheme found that Mr Vaii was not driving on a route “intended for vehicles, the roadway…”, even if he was fording a river. Consequently, Mr Vaai was “off-roading”, coming within the meaning of the policy’s exclusion.

Complaint not upheld

It is important for consumers to understand what they are and are not covered for under their policies. Exclusions often take people by surprise.


*Names changed



March 2022

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