News

October 23, 2017

Fenchurch Law recognised for claims dispute expertise with tier one ranking in Legal 500

Fenchurch Law, the leading UK firm working exclusively for policyholders and brokers on complex insurance disputes, has received a tier 1 ranking in the latest Legal 500, marking an important milestone in the firm’s commitment to improving policyholder outcomes.

David Pryce, managing partner, said: “From the very launch of the firm seven years ago, our aim has been to provide insurance policyholders with access to the same levels of legal expertise and support that insurers have in dealing with complex claims disputes.

“To be recognised for both our policyholder litigation expertise and our client-focused ethos is testament to the commitment of the team to ensuring there is a level playing field in the resolution of disputes.”

“This recognition also comes in no small part thanks to the support and shared commitment of the insurance broking community to improving outcomes for policyholders. We will continue to work with them to develop our services and capabilities to reflect the evolving needs of policyholders to support their clients through complex disputes.”

Legal 500 recognised the Fenchurch Law team’s legal and policyholder litigation capabilities and expertise and its client-focused ethos. David Pryce was recognised as a leading individual in insurance litigation and partners Daniel Brooks and Amy Lacey were also rated as next generation lawyers.

October 13, 2017

Has the Enterprise Act Expanded the Duty of Fair Presentation?

For more than a century after the Marine Insurance Act of 1906, the law relating to insurance contracts was a territory into which parliament did not venture, ceding it instead to the courts. By 2015, though, Parliament was launching a full-scale invasion. The Insurance Act of that year replaced the old duty of disclosure with a new “Duty of Fair Presentation” and fundamentally reformed the remedies prescribed by law both for breach of the Duty of Fair Presentation (by introducing the concept of proportionality) and for breach of warranties.

A year later the Enterprise Act 2016 introduced a brand new right to claim damages from insurers for unreasonable delay in the payment of claims.  On the face of it, each of the two Acts creates its own seemingly unrelated code of rights, obligations and remedies with no obvious interplay or knock-on effect. However, the question arises as to whether circumstances particular to the insured, which make the insurer vulnerable to a damages action if it delays in paying claims, are circumstances which, in the wake of the Enterprise Act 2016, fall within the Duty of Fair Presentation created by the Insurance Act 2015.

Legal Ingredients of a Claim for Damages for Late Payment

In assessing whether the information encompassed within the Duty of Fair Presentation has been broadened by the Enterprise Act, one first has to consider what is needed to found a claim for late payment.

A number of ingredients must be present if an insured is to be entitled to damages for loss caused by breach of an insurer’s duty to pay claims within a reasonable period. Aside from showing it has a valid claim under the policy in the first place, that the insurer’s delay was unreasonable, that the loss for which compensation is sought was caused by the insurer’s delay and that it has taken steps to mitigate its loss, the insured also has to show that the loss suffered as a result of the delay was foreseeable or contemplated by the parties at the time the policy was entered into.

The classic case for late payment damages is likely to be a property loss – e.g. at industrial premises where, say, a particular item of machinery is crucial to production and, unless it is quickly replaced following an insured event, the insured will suffer significant loss of production or even be put out of business. To found a claim for late payment damages, such eventualities must have been forseeable as at the date the policy was entered into. The insured would have to show, for example, that it was or should have been in the contemplation of the insurer at the time the policy was taken out that production turned on the availability of a particular machine and that the insured would rely on insurance proceeds if that machine were damaged because it would not be able to finance replacement through any other means.  This means that the prospects of establishing a claim for damages will be greatly enhanced if the insured informed the insurer of these particular vulnerabilities when the policy was taken out.

Impact on the Duty of Fair Presentation

The question then arises as to whether it is simply prudent to tell the insurer about such vulnerabilities or whether the insured has a duty to do so.

The information that must be contained within the “Fair Presentation” of the risk by the insured is defined in section 7(3) of the Insurance Act 2015 as that which would “influence the judgment of a prudent insurer in determining whether to take the risk and, if so, on what terms”.

The “risk” in question is the risk of damage from an insured peril. In our classic case it is the risk of damage to or destruction of the insured property from insured perils. On the face of it, the importance of the property to the insured’s business or the ability of the insured to raise finance for replacement of the property if damaged has no bearing on the risk of damage from an insured peril occurring (although different considerations could well apply if the insurance had business interruption cover attached to it). These particular vulnerabilities wouldn’t seem to have any bearing on the pure underwriting decision as to the susceptibility of the insured to suffer damage from an insured peril.

What these vulnerabilities do have a bearing on is the insurer’s risk of exposure to a late payment damages claim. The key point is whether the risk of exposure to such a claim is part of the “risk” contemplated by section 7(3), so that the insured has a duty to disclose such circumstances to the insurer (rather than simply being well advised to do so in order to enhance the prospects of a claim for late payment damages should such a claim become necessary).

Until the courts look at the question there is no clear answer. On the one hand section 7(3) is ostensibly dealing purely with the insured risk. This is the risk upon which the judgment of the underwriter is exercised, be that the risk of flood, fire or storm. Since the risk of exposure to late payment damages is not an insured risk and instead one to which the insurer exposes itself by its own unreasonable delay rather than by reason of some fortuity over which neither insured nor insurer has control, there is good reason for saying that section 7(3) does not extend to circumstances relevant only to the recoverability of late payment damages.

On the other hand, section 7(3) contemplates the provision by the insured of any and all information relevant to the insurer’s willingness to provide a policy at all or, if so, on what terms. It may be that an insured with particular vulnerabilities that would set up a late payment damages claim is not the sort of insured the insurer would want to write cover for at all, making such information “material”.  Even if the insurer would still be prepared to write cover notwithstanding such knowledge it might be prompted to require a term in the policy excluding the application of the Enterprise Act (the Act allows an insurer to contract out when not insuring consumers) or a term that caps exposure to late payment damages or it might simply charge a higher premium.

Perhaps the most significant consideration is the provision in section 7(4) which defines as material “any particular concerns which led the insured to seek insurance cover for the risk”. In some cases the vulnerabilities of the insured that would be the basis for a claim for late payment damages may be precisely what led the insured to take out the insurance in the first place.

Conclusion

Certain brokers are recommending that their clients tell insurers about circumstances that would make them vulnerable if claim payments were delayed because it helps lay the foundation for any late payment damages claim that might become necessary.  In light of the uncertainty around whether such circumstances are material to the “risk” for the purposes of section 7(3) of the Insurance Act and thus encompassed by the insured’s Duty of Fair Presentation (and since insurance policies are riddled with conditionalities as it is), insureds should err on the side of caution and include information about such vulnerabilities in their presentation of the risk.

John Curran is a partner at Fenchurch Law