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July 1, 2019

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. #6 (The Bad). Orient-Express Hotels v Generali

Welcome to the latest in the series of blogs from Fenchurch Law: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. An opinionated and practical guide to the most important insurance decisions relating to the London / English insurance markets, all looked at from a pro-policyholder perspective.

Some cases are correctly decided and positive for policyholders. We celebrate those cases as The Good.

Some cases are, in our view, bad for policyholders, wrongly decided, and in need of being overturned. We highlight those decisions as The Bad.

Other cases are bad for policyholders but seem (even to our policyholder-tinted eyes) to be correctly decided. Those cases can trip up even the most honest policyholder with the most genuine claim. We put the hazard lights on those cases as The Ugly.

At Fenchurch Law we love the insurance market. But we love policyholders just a little bit more.

#6 (The Bad)

Orient-Express Hotels v Generali

Business interruption (BI) policies in the UK ordinarily provide for recovery of loss caused by physical damage to property at the insured premises, subject to adjustment to reflect other factors that would have affected the business in any event.

In Orient Express Hotels Ltd v Assicurazioni Generali SPA t/a Generali Global Risk [2010] EWHC 1186 (Comm), the Commercial Court held that the ‘but for’ causation test applies under standard BI policy wordings where there are two concurrent independent causes of loss, and there could be no indemnity for financial loss concurrently caused by: (1) damage to the insured premises – a luxury hotel in New Orleans, and (2) evacuation of the city as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Orient Express Hotels Ltd (OEH) was owner of the Windsor Court Hotel (the Hotel), which suffered significant hurricane damage in August and September 2005 leading to its closure for a period of two months. The surrounding area was also devastated by the storms, with the entire city shut down for several weeks following the declaration of a state of emergency, and the imposition of a curfew and mandatory evacuation order.

A dispute arose concerning the interpretation of OEH’s BI policy (subject to English law and an arbitration provision), which provided cover for BI loss “directly arising from Damage”, defined as “direct physical loss destruction or damage to the Hotel”. The trends clause provided for variations or special circumstances that would have affected the business had the Damage not occurred to be taken into account, “so that the figures thus adjusted shall represent as nearly as may be reasonably practicable the results which but for the Damage would have been obtained during [the indemnity period]”.

The arbitral Tribunal held that OEH could only recover in respect of loss which would not have arisen had the damage to the Hotel not occurred, and this meant that OEH was to be put in the position of an owner of an undamaged hotel in an otherwise damaged city. Since New Orleans itself was effectively closed for several weeks due to widespread flooding, with no-one able to visit the area or stay at the Hotel even if it had (theoretically) been undamaged, OEH could not recover under the primary insuring provisions for BI loss suffered during this period. A limited award of damages was made under separate Loss of Attraction and Prevention of Access extensions to the policy.

OEH appealed to the Commercial Court, arguing that the Tribunal’s approach was inappropriate given the wide area damage to the Hotel and the vicinity caused by the same hurricanes. OEH sought to rely upon principles established in: Miss Jay Jay [1987] and IF P&C Insurance v Silversea Cruises [2004], that, where there are two proximate causes of a loss, the insured can recover if one of the causes is insured, provided the other cause is not excluded; and Kuwait Airways Corpn. v Iraqi Airways Co. [2002], that, where a loss has been caused by two or more tortfeasors and the claimant is unable to prove which caused the loss, the Courts will occasionally relax the ‘but for’ test and conclude that both tortfeasors caused the damage, to avoid an over-exclusionary approach.

Mr Justice Hamblen dismissed the appeal, concluding that no error of law had been established in relation to the Tribunal’s application of a ‘but for’ causation test under the policy on the facts as found at the arbitration hearing, whilst recognising “as a matter of principle there is considerable force in much of OEH’s argument”. The insurance authorities mentioned above were distinguished as involving interdependent concurrent causes, in which case the ‘but for’ test would be satisfied. The Court did appear to accept that there may be insurance cases where principles of fairness and reasonableness meant that the ‘but for’ causation test is not applicable, but OEH was unable to establish an error of law by the Tribunal where this argument had not been raised at the arbitration hearing. Given these evidential constraints on an appeal limited to questions of law, OEH was unsuccessful in the Commercial Court.

Permission to appeal was granted, indicating that the Court considered OEH’s grounds for further challenge had a real prospect of success. Settlement on commercial terms was agreed between the parties prior to the Court of Appeal hearing.

The decision in this case has been criticised by commentators as unfair, giving rise to the surprising result that the more widespread the impact of a natural peril, the less cover is afforded under the policy. Leading textbooks (including Riley on Business Interruption Insurance and Hickmott’s Interruption Insurance: Proximate Loss Issues) express concern at this unsatisfactory outcome, noting that the ‘windfall loss’ applied by Generali under the trends clause during the period when OEH itself was affected by its own damage did not reflect the approach adopted by insurers following, for example, the earlier London bombings, or severe flooding in Cumbria in 2009. We consider that that the true intention of the London market was that, in the event of wide area damage, claims would be met up to the level that would have applied had the damage been restricted solely to the insured’s own property at the premises.

In our view, the approach taken by the Tribunal and upheld by the Commercial Court in this case is wrong in principle. It is hoped that an opportunity will arise for the English Courts to revisit this issue and adopt a fairer approach to indemnity under standard UK wordings, to remedy the potential injustice for policyholders. In the meantime, those taking out BI policies should seek amendment of the trends clause to provide for the policyholder to be put in the position they would have been “but for the event(s) causing the damage” (instead of “but for the damage to insured premises”), and to agree sufficient limits of indemnity under extensions for Loss of Attraction and Prevention of Access.