French Property News Q&A – Insurance Claim

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Question: We visit our French property 2 or 3 times a year. During the winter months we leave the heating on to keep the house aired and avoid any problems with frost damage. In January 2010 our region suffered exceptionally cold weather, causing power lines to come down with the weight of snow and ice and cutting off the boiler. Consequently the house was severely flooded. Our insurers have told us that they will reduce the amount payable by them by 30% as we should have drained down the system when we weren’t there.

Could you tell us if this is reasonable and if there is anything we can do to resolve this in our favour?


Insurers have always tried to reduce amounts paid out under claims by their customers. Litigation over the terms of insurance contracts has provided work for lawyers over the generations. Case law is abundant both in England and in France but each case depends upon the facts and prediction of an outcome is never easy.

Insurers with substantial resources are able to employ lawyers to handle a case if their decision is challenged by a customer. This puts the customer in a difficult position as the cost of instructing their own lawyer may make the claim uneconomical to pursue.

However, this should not affect the rights of the insured customer. An initial letter from a French avocat to the insurers will, in this case, point out the steps taken to protect the property (i.e. keeping background heating on during freezing weather) and argue that the double whammy of the electricity lines falling and cutting off the power at this time was unforeseeable.

This action by an avocat may persuade the insurer to agree to pay up to say 90% of the amount claimed which might be acceptable as a settlement. All these types of cases are negotiable and my advice would be to instruct a local avocat in Normandy. The avocat will require a payment on account of costs before he or she does any work. A payment of perhaps 750 Euros should be expected and may well be a good investment if a more favourable settlement can be achieved as a result of the avocat’s intervention.


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