An elephant squeezed into a van, a publican who hurt his leg while ejecting a drunken customer and a husband who accidentally cooked his wife’s jewellery, are among the most unusual claims that Aviva has ever dealt with.
The insurance giant has trawled through its archives to unearth a “treasure trove” of claims dating back centuries, as it approaches its 325th anniversary on November 12 2021.
A leapfrogging vicar and someone being hit in the eye with a champagne cork are also among the quirkier claims it has recorded.
Aviva’s roots can be traced back to 1696 as the Hand-in-Hand Fire and Life Insurance Company.
It's been a joy to have another opportunity to look at some of our oldest and quirkiest claims
Anna Stone, Aviva archivist
The first policy was taken out on January 15 1697 and the first claim was paid on 11 May 1697 when houses in St Stephen’s Alley, Westminster were “damnifyed by fire”.
Although the company was then an insurer against fire, the organisation evolved as people’s needs changed, to cover homes, personal possessions, motoring, travel, health and personal injuries, pensions and investments.
Researchers found that injury claims appeared throughout the archives, particularly when health and safety rules were less comprehensive than they are today.
In 1884, a surgeon suffered a “poisoned hand” when unpacking a box of drugs.
Another man injured his arm when his finger was caught in a woman’s corset in 1888, as he was trying to save her from drowning.
In the same year, £10 was awarded to someone who lost a toenail while getting into bed.
Aviva said that while many of its older claims are light on detail, they also include a vicar who was awarded £120 after falling while playing leap-frog in 1875.
In another case, a London hotel keeper was awarded £25 and 10 shillings in 1878 after being hit in the eye with a cork after opening a bottle of champagne.
And in 1887, a publican received £100 after suffering a shin injury while ejecting a drunken man.
In 1888, a Dundee surgeon received £15 after a bite to the finger while examining a patient’s mouth.
Looking at 20th century claims, a window panel of a Morris Minor van was broken in 1934 after a circus passed by. One of its elephants put its trunk through the window, discovered the driver’s lunch and ate it, finishing it off with a loaf of bread. Unfortunately, the elephant was a tight fit in the van.
In a case in 1948, a policyholder and his family went away for a holiday, and for safety, his wife placed her jewels in the stove. On their return, the stove was lit by the husband, with disastrous results for the jewellery.
In another case in 1948, a client claimed for burglary after: “A burglar, in the shape of a great horrid tomcat entered our house by the window (and) stole from the cage a canary worth £1.”
A case in 1975, meanwhile, involved a red setter dog climbing into a car for a nap, only to knock it out of gear, meaning the car rolled down a slope backwards and struck a brick gatepost.
Anna Stone, Aviva archivist said: “It’s been a joy to have another opportunity to look at some of our oldest and quirkiest claims. Some of them never fail to raise a smile but, in each case, we’ve been there to help customers as they’ve faced the unexpected.
“Aviva’s origins can be traced back 325 years so, as we celebrate this landmark, I’ve enjoyed reminding myself of the likes of a driving red setter and a hungry elephant.
“Although it has to be said, we’re still adding to our log of unusual claims even today.”
Aviva has also been an insurer to some famous customers, including Sir Walter Scott, Agatha Christie, Percy Bysshe Shelley, former prime minister David Lloyd George and royals Queen Victoria and George V.