Would your travel insurance policy cover you if you fell off an elephant while on holiday in Phuket? Well, maybe – but there could be a reduction in the available benefits. However, if you were on a holiday which included trekking by camel or elephant you would not be covered because the activity would be classified as ‘non-incidental.’ Confused yet? The subject of travel insurance for ‘hazardous activities’ can be very complicated!
Many travel insurance policies automatically cover for ‘incidental’ activities. The term ‘incidental basis’ means that your participation in an activity is on a casual, fortuitous, occasional, or minor basis. In contrast, sports tours or activity holidays; for example, a week’s white water rafting on the Colorado River is considered non-incidental.
The term ‘hazardous activity’ for insurance purposes generally means any activity where it is recognized that there is an increased risk of injury or it can be reasonably expected to exacerbate an existing medical condition.
You should be covered to participate in an activity such as canoeing, hot air ballooning, camel riding, jet skiing, deep sea fishing, horse riding or snorkeling on a limited basis but not in excess, i.e. a planned adventure holiday where you would be participating in the activity on a daily basis.
For incidental activities which are considered more dangerous, such as abseiling or playing amateur rugby, claims resulting from these activities could mean a reduction in the amount of personal accident benefit and an increase in the ‘excess’ for medical expenses.
Another group might include activities considered dangerous which you would participate in on a regular basis, i.e. ‘non-incidental.’ Claims relating to these activities are also likely to be subject to a reduction in the amount of personal accident cover and an increase in the excess for medical expenses. These activities might include cycling (touring), pony trekking, safaris, and sailing holidays.
Sports, which include racing of any type (except on foot), would usually have to be approved in advance. The same would apply to activities such as: mountaineering (while using ropes), potholing, hang-gliding, caving, micro-lighting, motor racing, and parachuting (other than a solo or tandem jump) in excess of one jump and bungee jumping (in excess of one jump). Motorcycling may be covered provided an additional premium is paid, but is often subject to restrictions such as riding your own motorcycle up to a certain engine size, and not including any type of racing. Your travel insurance policy will not cover for professional sporting activities and you cannot work (paid or unpaid) as a guide or instructor to others.
Most travel insurance policies will contain a clause in their General Exclusions section regarding ‘willful exposure to danger or peril’ (unless in an attempt to save human life). The onus is on you to exercise reasonable care to prevent illness, injury, or loss or damage to your property. In other words – you should always act as if you are not insured and not tempt fate!
When it comes to winter sports, you do not normally have automatic coverage with your travel insurance policy and will need to pay an additional premium. Most winter sports policies do not cover for anything other than normal skiing and boarding activities. Dangerous activities such as ski jumping, heli-skiing, ski acrobatics, freestyle skiing, ski racing or training, ice hockey, and bobsledding would be excluded unless pre-approved. Exclusions would also apply to offpiste skiing in areas designated as unsafe by the resort management.
Travel insurance policies can vary a lot so if you should be offered free insurance or ludicrously cheap insurance it would be wise to check and see what it actually covers! You may find, for instance, that there will be no liability cover under certain circumstances or for certain activities. You may be covered for some potentially hazardous activities – but only if you remain within certain limited guidelines for that activity.
It is up to the underwriter whether they decide to provide cover for any unusual type of risk. You would need to contact the travel insurance company in advance to discuss any potentially hazardous activities. In some cases, you may be able to obtain cover, but only after payment of an additional premium or an amendment to the policy. If in doubt – always ask first. It will be difficult, it not impossible, to find a company which will add cover for a hazardous activity to your policy once you are on holiday. If you should find yourself in this position, it would be wise to avoid the activity – or attempt to purchase insurance where you are.
Are you less confused now? Imagine you are on holiday in Egypt. You decide to go on a camel ride. You fall off and break your leg. Would your travel insurance cover you? Depending on your particular policy, the insurance should cover you – because your participation in the activity was on an incidental basis!
Jean Andrews is a freelance writer living in the UK. She regularly contributes articles for TIA Ltd who offer travel insurance
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