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ombudsman news

issue 132

March 2016

things that go wrong with cars

While people might not automatically associate cars with the financial ombudsman, they feature in a wide range of the problems we deal with.

With all of the UK's more than 30 million cars needing to be insured to drive, it's not surprising we regularly hear from people having problems with their insurance. What's more, many of those cars have been bought or hired with some kind of finance arrangement. In these cases, we can often help when something's gone wrong with the car or how it was sold.

Many of the problems we deal with today are about similar issues to those we've dealt with since we were set up. We continue to give answers on unpaid claims, fair valuations and the quality of new cars. And poor communication continues to be an underlying problem in a number of the complaints people bring to us.

But while some things haven't changed, developments in technology, for example, mean the individual factors we'd expect a business to consider have changed - while continuing to follow our fair and reasonable approach to sorting things out.

In the past, a complaint about a stolen car, for example, might have been decided by - among other factors - whether someone could provide both sets of keys. But we know from experience that some newer "keyless" cars can be stolen without a key. In cases like these, we'll check an insurer has fully explored all the options - and not just told their customer that without a key, a car can't be stolen.

In many of the complaints we deal with, we find a business hasn't acted unfairly - but they could have explained things more simply or clearly. Falling back on jargon like "misrepresentation" or "fault claim" can leave people feeling confused or frustrated. On the other hand, we often find that by making things more straightforward, people understand - and are more likely to accept - the outcome. This might be as simple as an insurer reassuring their customer that a "fault claim" doesn't necessarily mean they're being "blamed" for an accident.

The following case studies highlight the range of issues we see. We've recently added more information to our website about the most common complaints we receive involving cars - and our approach to putting things right when something's gone wrong.

index of case studies

  • 132/1 - consumers complain that finance company won't refund payments and let them return faulty car
  • 132/2 - consumer complains that insurer is holding her liable when car she no longer owns is involved in an accident
  • 132/3 - consumer complains that insurer turned down claim for stolen car - on grounds that she left her car unattended with the key inside
  • 132/4 - consumer complains that insurer has rejected claim after accident on grounds that damage is wear and tear
  • 132/5 - consumer complains after insurer says problems with car are due to wear and tear
  • 132/6 - consumer complains insurer has unfairly kept entire premium after he gave incorrect information
  • 132/7 - consumers complain that insurer won't pay for vandalism damage to car that happened while it was at approved garage
  • 132/8 - consumer complains that hire company has charged too much for damage to car
  • 132/9 - consumers complain that car bought using "conditional sale" finance was modified - and wasn't as the dealer described
  • 132/10 - consumer complains that accident wasn't his fault - but insurer has split liability
  • 132/11 - consumer complains about insurer's valuation of his car after it's written off
  • 132/12 - consumer complains that car insurer should have looked at CCTV footage of accident

132/1
consumers complain that finance company won't refund payments and let them return faulty car

Mr and Mrs B bought a used car on a hire purchase agreement - but soon began to have problems with it. Over the next couple of months, they arranged a number of repairs at the garage they'd bought it from - but these were all unsuccessful.

Mr and Mrs B then contacted the finance provider, who arranged for an engineer to inspect the car. The engineer found that the car's suspension was faulty, the brake pads were worn and there was an oil leak in the gearbox. He said that, in his view, the faults would have been there when the car was sold.

The finance provider agreed to fix the oil leak. But they said the fact that Mr and Mrs B had already driven a few thousand miles in the car showed it must have been working properly when they bought it.

Mr and Mrs B insisted the car hadn't run properly since they'd taken it home - and that they wanted to return it and get back the money they'd paid. When the finance provider refused, they complained to us.

complaint upheld

We asked the finance provider for their records of the repairs and the inspections that had been carried out on the car.

Looking at the history of the repairs, we thought it was clear that Mr and Mrs B had experienced difficulties very soon after buying the car. The repairs arranged by the garage hadn't fixed the problem. And an independent engineer had concluded that the faults had existed before they bought the car.

Mr and Mrs B told us the reason they'd clocked up so many miles was because the garage was a 100-mile round trip. We didn't think - as the finance provider had argued - that the high mileage meant the car hadn't been faulty when it was sold. On the other hand, it did suggest that Mr and Mrs B had had some benefit from the car, despite its faults.

We explained to Mr and Mrs B that - because they'd still been able to use the car - it was fair for the finance provider to keep the money they'd already paid.

But given everything we'd seen, we agreed that the car hadn't been fit for purpose when it was sold. So we told the finance provider that Mr and Mrs B should be allowed to return it - and to cancel their finance agreement.

132/2
consumer complains that insurer is holding her liable when car she no longer owns is involved in an accident

Mrs L had added her husband's brother - Mr H - to her car insurance, so he could help run errands for her husband, Mr L, who was partially-sighted.

When Mr and Mrs L later split up, Mrs L transferred ownership of the car to Mr H. A few months later, Mrs L's insurer notified her that Mr H had had an accident with a motorbike, but Mr H hadn't been insured. When the motorcyclist's insurer had contacted them, they'd found out that Mrs L no longer owned the car.

The insurer told Mrs L that - because she hadn't told them about this "material change" - they were cancelling her policy from the point she'd transferred ownership.

They also explained that, since Mrs L hadn't cancelled her insurance, they were still legally liable for any claims made against the policy. And they were now looking to recover from Mrs L the costs of the motorcyclist's claim.

Mrs L refused to pay - saying that Mr H, the car's owner, should cover the costs. When the insurer insisted that Mrs L was responsible, she contacted us.

complaint not upheld

Mrs L told us she hadn't realised she'd needed to cancel her insurance - and had assumed that Mr H would organise his own. She didn't understand how she was responsible for the claim if the car wasn't legally hers.

We explained to Mrs L that, once she'd given the car to Mr H, the insurer hadn't been insuring the risk she'd initially asked them to cover. In the circumstances, we thought it was fair for the insurer to cancel her policy.

We also explained that, as the insurer of the car at the time of Mr H's accident, Mrs L's insurer had a duty - under the Road Traffic Act - to deal with the motorcyclist's claim. And the law also gave the insurer the right to recover any money from the policyholder - Mrs L.

We pointed out that, if Mrs L had cancelled her policy, the insurer wouldn't have had to deal with the claim.

We appreciated that Mrs L was frustrated - but we didn't agree that the insurer had acted unfairly.

132/3
consumer complains that insurer turned down claim for stolen car - on grounds that she left her car unattended with the key inside

On a frosty morning, Mrs W started up her car’s engine and went back indoors to get her phone. As she came back to her front door, she saw someone drive off in the car.

When Mrs W claimed on her car insurance, the insurer refused to pay out. They said Mrs W’s claim wasn’t covered because she’d left her keys in her car and left the car unattended.

Mrs W’s son, Mr W, complained about the insurer’s decision. When the insurer wouldn’t change their position, he contacted us.

complaint not upheld

Mr W said the insurer hadn’t told Mrs W about the policy terms they were using to turn down her claim.

We checked the documents Mrs W had been sent when she bought the policy - and found the exclusions were clearly set out in the key facts. We told Mr W that we thought the insurer had done enough to highlight the types of claims they wouldn’t cover.

But we still needed to decide whether it was fair for the insurer to use the exclusions in Mrs W’s situation. So we asked for more detail about what had happened.

Mr W explained that his mother had quickly gone back into the house to pick up her phone, which had been charging in the living room. He said she’d partly closed the door - but had only ever been about six feet away from the car.

Mr W also provided photos of where the car had been parked when it was stolen. It had been on Mrs W’s driveway at the time - as Mr W had described, a few feet away from the living room.

We take a pragmatic view of what "unattended" means. And we weighed up whether Mrs W had been near enough to her car to keep a close eye it - and to deter a thief.

But looking at the photos, we didn’t think this was the case. Mrs W’s front door was round the corner from the driveway - meaning her view of her car would have been obstructed. And Mr W confirmed that Mrs W hadn’t seen anyone get into the car.

We were sorry to hear about Mrs W’s upsetting experience. But - in light of what we’d seen - we didn’t agree that the insurer had acted unfairly in turning down her claim.

132/4
consumer complains that insurer has rejected claim after accident on grounds that damage is wear and tear

After Mrs O’s insurer had repaired her car following an accident, she noticed that the air conditioning and central locking systems weren’t working properly.

When she told her insurer, they said that their investigations had shown the systems had wear and tear. And since this damage wasn’t related to the accident, they didn’t have to repair it.

Mrs O said she hadn’t had any problems with the air conditioning or central locking before the accident. She pointed out that she’d only just had the air conditioning serviced.

But her insurer wouldn’t change their decision - so she contacted us.

complaint upheld

The insurer told us that they’d had Mrs O’s car inspected at one of their authorised garages - and had made their decision based on the findings of the engineer’s report.

We asked for a copy of this report. The engineer had said that the damage to the air conditioning and central locking could have been down to wear and tear. But he’d said it was likely the accident had contributed to the damage - and could have caused it.

We asked the insurer - since the engineer hadn’t been sure about the cause - what other evidence they’d used to reach their conclusion about the damage. But they said the engineer’s report was all they’d used.

It was for the insurer to show their exclusion for wear and tear should apply. And we didn’t agree that the evidence showed that the damage wasn’t caused by the accident.

We told the insurer to pay for Mrs O’s car’s air conditioning and central locking to be repaired.

132/5
consumer complains after insurer says problems with car are due to wear and tear

When Mr G's car was involved in a crash, he made a claim on his insurance and had it repaired. But when he started driving, he noticed it was making some strange noises.

Mr G contacted his insurer, saying the damage wasn't fixed. But after their engineer had looked into the problem, they said they wouldn't pay for any further repairs. The engineer said all the accident damage had been fixed by the original repairs. The remaining problems hadn't been fixed because they'd been caused by wear and tear - and weren't covered under the insurance.

Unhappy with his insurer's response, Mr G made a complaint. He said his car hadn't made noises before the crash - and the insurer was now making excuses to get out of paying.

Looking for an independent opinion, Mr G asked a second engineer to inspect the car. But when the insurer reassessed the claim based on the new inspection, they still refused to pay for the damage.

Frustrated with his insurer's decision, Mr G contacted us.

complaint not upheld

We looked at both engineers' reports about Mr G's car. From the report the insurer sent us, we could see their engineer had been clear about the cause of the problems. He said all the accident damage had been fixed. The remaining damage - which was causing the noises Mr G had heard - was due to wear and tear, and not the crash.

On the other hand, Mr G's engineer hadn't been so sure. He said Mr G's car had recently passed its MOT - and problems with the car should have been picked up at that point if they'd been ongoing wear and tear issues.

The engineer said that some problems with the car "may well" have been related to the crash. But he said further investigation would be needed to be sure either way.

Mr G insisted he'd always maintained his car. But his car was 13 years old - so we thought it was possible that there would have been some wear and tear that had gone unnoticed. And we know from experience that not everything is checked during an MOT - so we couldn't be sure that the damaged parts would have been part of the check.

From Mr G's inspection, it seemed the engineer hadn't been sure about the cause of the damage. He'd suggested that the problems might have come about following the crash. But he hadn't ruled out the possibility that they were due to wear and tear. The insurer's engineer, on the other hand, had said the damage definitely hadn't been caused by the crash.

We appreciated that the problems with Mr G's car had only become apparent following the initial repairs. But weighing up both reports, Mr G's engineer's report wasn't enough to convince us the problems were most likely caused by the accident.

Although we appreciated Mr G's frustration, we decided his insurer had made a fair decision given the evidence.

132/6
consumer complains insurer has unfairly kept entire premium after he gave incorrect information

After buying a new car, Mr Z took out insurance through an online comparison site. After he'd paid the annual premium, he received an email from his new insurer. They said there was a problem with his application, and they needed to know how long he'd been a UK resident.

Mr Z called the insurer and confirmed he'd been a UK resident for three years. But they said his quote was based on his being a UK resident since birth. They said he'd deliberately given the wrong information. As a result, they were cancelling his policy and keeping the money he'd already paid.

Mr Z said he hadn't even realised he'd made a mistake. He said his wife had answered the questions for him in getting the quote - so she must have put in the wrong details. And in any case, he thought keeping the full premium was unfair now he'd told them the right information.

The insurer maintained they'd been clear about the risks of giving the wrong information. They refused to change their position - so Mr Z came to us.

complaint not upheld

We asked to see how the insurer had asked about Mr Z's UK residency - as well as the information given in his application.

The insurer sent us a screenshot of the online application. The relevant question stated "UK resident from" - followed by a tick box for "birth", or the option to provide a specific date. In Mr Z's application, he'd ticked "from birth" - so he'd given the wrong answer to what we could see was a clear question.

The insurer also sent us a report of Mr Z's quote history - showing they'd given nine different quotes for Mr Z's policy. The quotes included three different dates for how long Mr Z had been a UK resident - with each giving a different price.

Mr Z maintained he hadn't been the one to answer the questions. He'd told the insurer his wife had got the quote - but said she'd since told him it was her friend. And he said her friend had filled out the details on her own - which must be why she'd got the dates wrong.

But Mr Z's account didn't add up. Not only had he changed his story about who'd got the quotes, but some specific details were correct in all the quotes. A crash Mr Z's wife had been involved in was listed, as well as a speeding fine she'd received. Mr Z couldn't explain how his wife's friend had known about these, but hadn't checked how long he'd been a UK resident.

From the evidence, it seemed someone had tried inputting different residency dates to see how the price would be affected. Mr Z had accepted a quote that was almost £400 cheaper than if he'd provided the right information - so we said the insurer had been reasonable in deciding the wrong information had been given deliberately.

We explained to Mr Z that whoever had obtained the quotes, it was his job to check that the information provided was correct. Looking at the policy documents Mr Z had been sent - as well as the information he'd been given in completing his quote - the insurer had been clear about the consequences of giving the wrong information. So we decided it was fair for the insurer to cancel Mr Z's policy and to keep the premium he'd already paid.

132/7
consumers complain that insurer won't pay for vandalism damage to car that happened while it was at approved garage

Following a crash, Mr and Mrs A's car was repaired at a garage. But after the repairs were completed, the car was vandalised on the forecourt.

Mr and Mrs A contacted their insurer to claim for the vandalism damage. They also said some headphones and a spare wheel had gone missing from the car - and asked the insurer to cover the costs.

The insurer said they'd now settled Mr and Mrs A's claim, and their further claim would have to be dealt with by the garage's insurer instead. Unhappy with this answer, Mr and Mrs A refused to pick up their car until it had been fully repaired. But the insurer wouldn't change their position.

Feeling they were stuck in a stalemate, Mr and Mrs A got in touch with us.

complaint upheld

We asked Mr and Mrs A's insurer for more details about the original claim. They explained that since the car had some special modifications, they'd given the couple cash to get it repaired at a specialist garage.

The insurer confirmed they'd chosen the garage. But the vandalism had happened after the car had been repaired and the insurer had paid the cash settlement. So they believed it was the garage's responsibility - not theirs - to put right the vandalism damage.

Mr and Mrs A explained that they'd tried to sort things out directly with the garage. From the correspondence we saw, it seemed there'd been confusion around how they'd need to go about getting a claim settled through the garage's insurer.

It was clear that Mr and Mrs A had tried to resolve the problem - but the dispute had now been going on for a number of months. We pointed out to the insurer that the car had been in the care of their approved garage when the vandalism happened. In these circumstances, we thought it was reasonable for the insurer to take responsibility for Mr and Mrs A's claim.

The insurer also sent us paperwork from the garage that had repaired the car. From this, we could see the garage hadn't noted down what was in the car. On the other hand, they'd later told Mr and Mrs A's insurer that the car definitely hadn't had a spare wheel when it arrived. And they didn't believe the headphones had been in the car either.

We weren't sure how the garage - or the insurer - could be so sure of what had or hadn't been in the car, when there was no evidence they'd actually checked. We thought it would have been reasonable to expect an approved garage to carry out such a check - to make sure the insurer's customers' possessions were protected.

We told the insurer to arrange for the vandalism damage to be repaired at an independent garage. And we told them to cover reasonable replacement costs for the headphones and spare wheel - taking into account any evidence Mr and Mrs A could provide about the age and condition of the items.

Mr and Mrs A had been left without a car while their insurer was refusing to pay their claim. So we also told the insurer to pay £300 to recognise the inconvenience they'd caused.

132/8
consumer complains that hire company has charged too much for damage to car

When Mr V reached the end of the finance agreement on his car, he returned the car to the hire company he’d leased it from. The company contacted him to confirm his contract had ended. And they also sent him a bill with some additional charges.

Mr V wasn’t happy with all the charges - in particular, £350 relating to damage to the roof of the car. When he asked for more information, the company told him there were dents in the roof. They said they’d made it clear that Mr V would be charged for this kind of damage.

Mr V maintained that he hadn’t damaged the car’s roof. But when the company insisted he pay the charge, he asked us for help.

complaint upheld

Mr V told us he’d known he’d scratched the front of the car - and he’d expected to pay for this, as well as for extra mileage.

But he said the hire company hadn’t given him much information about the damage to the roof. They’d only told him the roof was dented in three places - and that their policy allowed up to two dents.

We asked to see the paperwork the hire company had given Mr V. This explained that the company considered “fair wear and tear” to the roof as a maximum of two dents - each no longer than 2cm.

The hire company sent us photos they’d taken during their inspection of the car. They’d highlighted three areas where they said the roof was damaged - with a ruler next to the dents they’d identified.

But looking at the photos, we could only see two dents. And going by the ruler in the images, each of these was only around 2cm long. We asked the hire company if they had any other photos that showed the third dent they’d identified. But they said they’d given us the only photos they had.

From what we’d seen, the dents on Mr V’s car fell under “fair wear and tear” - as set out in his contract. In the circumstances, we told the hire company to waive the £350 charge relating to the dents.

132/9
consumers complain that car bought using "conditional sale" finance was modified - and wasn't as the dealer described

Mr and Mrs K bought a car on finance. The dealer told them the car didn't come with a spare tyre because it had "run flat" tyres which could be driven with a puncture.

But when Mr and Mrs K later had the tyres replaced, it came to light that they were just the standard type.

Mr and Mrs K complained to the finance company. They said they'd read on the internet that the car was worth less with standard tyres - and that if they'd known their car didn't have "run flat" tyres, they would have negotiated a lower price.

The finance provider pointed out to Mr and Mrs K that the car hadn't been advertised as having "run flat" tyres. They also spoke to an independent engineer, who said that the model could come with either type of tyre as standard.

Based on their investigation, the finance provider refused to give Mr and Mrs K a refund. But Mr and Mrs K didn't agree - so they contacted us.

complaint not upheld

Mr and Mrs K told us they'd queried the lack of a spare tyre with the dealer - who'd told them it was because the car came with "run flat" tyres.

They accepted that they hadn't known what "run flat" tyres were until the dealer explained it to them. In fact, they hadn't noticed what the initial advert they'd seen said about tyres at all.

Mr and Mrs K could no longer find the article they said they'd read online, referring to how the type of tyres could affect the car's value. On the other hand, the engineer had confirmed the car could come with either type of tyre - and hadn't indicated the type of tyre could have an impact on the value.

It was clear that the dealer had given Mr and Mrs K the wrong information. But - given they hadn't even thought about the tyres beforehand - we didn't think this had influenced their decision to buy the car, and at the price they'd paid.

We explained to Mr and Mrs K that, from what we'd seen, they hadn't lost out as a result of the dealer's mistake. So the finance provider's answer was fair.

132/10
consumer complains that accident wasn't his fault - but insurer has split liability

Driving home from work, Mr E collided with another car. His car insurer agreed with the other driver’s insurer to split liability for the accident 80/20 - with Mr E being held 80% responsible.

Mr E maintained that he wasn’t at fault at all - and complained to his insurer. When the insurer wouldn’t change their decision, he contacted us.

complaint not upheld

Mr E told us he’d been on the main road with right of way when the other driver had driven into him from a side road. He said he’d been driving slowly and hadn’t done anything wrong.

Mr E told us to look at the evidence - and see for ourselves who was responsible. We explained that it wasn’t our role to investigate the accident - but we’d make sure the insurer’s answer was reasonable, given all the evidence that had been available to them.

When we asked the insurer for the evidence they’d used, they sent us statements that they’d taken from both drivers. The other driver had said Mr E had passed stationary traffic and driven into an area marked “keep clear” - so he’d been the one at fault.

From their records, we could see the insurer had also visited the scene of the accident, studied the road layout and taken photos of the damage to the cars. And after Mr E complained about the outcome of the claim, they’d reviewed their decision - and taken guidance from their solicitors about the likely outcome if the other driver’s claim went to court.

In light of this, we decided the insurer had carried out a fair investigation - and had reached a reasonable conclusion about what had happened.

We appreciated that Mr E felt strongly that he wasn’t to blame. But we didn’t agree that his insurer had acted unfairly.

132/11
consumer complains about insurer's valuation of his car after it's written off

After Mr J’s car was hit by a motorbike it had to be written off. His car insurer offered him £3,600 - which they said was the car’s market value before the crash.

Mr J didn’t think this was enough. He told the insurer he’d seen similar cars selling for a lot more. He said he’d spent a lot of money on extras for his car - including special headlights, privacy glass and a sat-nav - which he didn’t think the insurer had factored in.

The insurer told Mr J they’d already added £200 to the valuation to account for the extras. But Mr J insisted the extras were worth several hundred pounds more - and complained to us.

complaint not upheld

Mr J sent us some adverts he’d seen of similar cars being advertised for more than the insurer had offered him. But we explained to Mr J that cars don’t often sell for the advertised price - so we couldn’t rely on the adverts to say if the valuation was fair.

We checked the motor trade guides to see the range of valuations for Mr J’s car. The guides gave prices around a hundred pounds either side of the insurer’s offer. The guides also suggested that some of the features Mr J had said he’d paid extra for actually came as standard with his particular model.

When we pointed this out to Mr J, he said he’d specifically been told by one of the insurer’s engineers that he should be paid another £600 for the extras.

We asked the insurer for their records of Mr J’s claim - including notes of conversations he’d had with their engineers. But there was nothing in these records to suggest he’d been promised £600. The three engineers who’d been involved in the claim had all agreed £200 was a fair amount for the extras.

We explained to Mr J that - taking together the guide prices and the engineers’ views - we thought the insurer’s valuation was fair.

132/12
consumer complains that car insurer should have looked at CCTV footage of accident

As Mr U was driving to work one morning, an HGV turned - and collided with his rear wheel. Rather than stop to exchange details with the other driver, Mr U noted down the HGV's number plate and drove on to work.

When he arrived, Mr U called his insurer to make a claim. He said the HGV driver had been turning into a garage - and the garage had CCTV cameras that would show the HGV driver was at fault.

Mr U called his insurer when he hadn't heard from them after a month. He asked if they'd checked the CCTV footage - and they told him they would contact the garage about this.

Some months later, Mr U heard that his insurer had settled his claim - splitting liability 50/50 between him and the HGV driver. The insurer offered Mr U £150 for the delays in sorting out his claim. They also apologised for not checking the CCTV footage - which was no longer available.

Mr U wasn't happy with this outcome. He now had a "fault" claim on his records. And he said that without the CCTV, he could no longer prove he wasn't to blame.

When Mr U's insurer refused to change their position, he brought his complaint to us.

complaint not upheld

We explained to Mr U that it wasn't our role to investigate the collision. But we would look into whether his insurer had acted fairly in settling the claim.

We asked Mr U's insurer for their records from the claim - including the phone calls Mr U had made to them.

During the calls, Mr U had asked about the CCTV footage several times. It seemed the insurer had spoken to the garage once, but hadn't followed this up. And by the time Mr U complained the insurer hadn't looked at the footage, the garage said it was no longer available.

The records also showed Mr U's insurer had spoken to the HGV driver's insurer. The HGV driver had said he hadn't realised he'd hit anyone. And his insurer said Mr U had been passing the HGV - and should have taken more care. They pointed to guidance in the Highway Code about passing long vehicles - and suggested that Mr U should have waited.

For his part, Mr U had accepted he'd passed the HGV driver while the HGV was turning. But he argued the HGV driver hadn't checked his mirrors - something the CCTV would have shown.

We could see the situation wasn't clear-cut - and it had been difficult for Mr U's insurer to decide who was at fault. By not talking to the other driver at the time of the accident, Mr U had made it difficult for his insurer to know exactly what had happened. And we thought it was reasonable that his insurer had taken into account the HGV insurer's side of the story.

In light of everything we'd seen, we didn't think it was clear the outcome would definitely have been different - even if the CCTV footage had shown the HGV driver hadn't checked his mirrors.

We decided Mr U's insurer's decision was reasonable - based on the evidence they had. And we felt their offer of £150 - in recognition of their poor customer service - was fair in the circumstances.

ombudsman news

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.