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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. #16 (The Good). Technology Holdings Ltd v IAG New Zealand Ltd [2008]

28 March 2022
By Rob Goodship

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.

#16 (The Good)

The Good

In another useful decision for policyholders under CAR policies (see our earlier article regarding ‘The Orjula’), but also damage policies generally, the High Court of New Zealand found (at para 65 of its judgment) that damage (as distinct from physical damage) can be established by one of more of:

a) a material risk to insured property which did not exist before the relevant event;

b) an event which rendered the insured property not fit for its intended use; and/ or

c) the possibility of malfunction during use as a result of the relevant event, which would require the insured property to be dismantled to determine the risk.

Whilst this authority isn’t binding on an English court, it would certainly be persuasive and the last category in particular is helpful to policyholders seeking cover for damage, as the mere possibility of malfunction which itself has not occurred would trigger cover under a policy responding to damage based on this authority.

The decision

The claimant supplied credit card terminals to retailers, 2,051 of which were stored in a basement that flooded on 7 February 2005. All of the containers in which the terminals were stored came into contact with flood water (but only around a quarter of the terminals themselves), and all containers were exposed to increased humidity. The claimant claimed under its Business Assets insurance policy (“the Policy”) for loss or damage to all of the terminals, the insuring clause in the Policy stating:

If during the Period of Insurance specified in the Schedule there happens Loss or Damage unintended and unforeseen by the Insured, except as may be excluded, to the PROPERTY AND EXPENSES INSURED, then the Insurers will indemnify the Insured in respect of such Loss or Damage as expressed in the BASIS OF LOSS SETTLEMENT and in addition the Insurers will indemnify the Insured in the manner and to the extent separately stated herein.

Despite being capitalised terms, Loss and Damage were not defined in the Policy. The claimant’s claim was accepted in relation to the terminals which came into direct contact with flood water, but insurers declined cover for the remaining terminals on the basis that they were neither lost nor damaged.

The court was asked to consider whether the insuring clause had been triggered in relation to the other terminals stored in the basement, essentially whether they were damaged because the manufacturer of the terminals had withdrawn its warranty and / or because the operator of the terminals’ intended network had refused to permit those units to be connected because of the risk that they would malfunction.

The claimant relied on expert evidence which included that it was standard industry practice for manufacturers to dismantle terminals returned to it to ensure their continued security and reliability following suspected damage. This, coupled with the low cost of producing terminals compared with the higher cost to dismantle, meant that terminals were often written off/ disposed of rather than being repaired.

The court’s analysis included a discussion concerning the difference between “physical damage” on the one hand and “damage” on the other, and concluded that the parties had intended the Policy to have the wider, unqualified damage cover, as opposed to cover being restricted to physical damage.

There was a detailed discussion of the damage authorities, including Transfield and Quorum AS, but most notably Ranicar v Frigmobile Pty Ltd, which the court regarded as the leading authority on “damage” in an insurance context. That case concerned scallops which could no longer be exported as they were temporarily and accidentally stored above -18 degrees Celsius, with that change in temperature being enough to constitute the physical change required to trigger cover for damage under the relevant insurance policy.  The court in Ranicar held that whereas “physical damage” may require a permanent and irreversible change in physical condition, “damage” could occur when an adverse change in physical condition was both transient and reversible.

Deciding the Technology Holdings case, Woodhouse J (quoting a leading insurance text) said that the essence of Ranicar in relation to damage was that “it is normally sufficient if the damage is in the form of diminution in value or functionality”, but that element was not enough by itself – for damage something must happen to the property itself followed by the impairment in value or usefulness.

Applying Ranicar to the terminals which did not directly come into contact with flood water, Woodhouse J said that:

“…there was an occurrence – the flooding – which was unintended and unforeseen by the insured and which happened to the property. Following this event, which may or may not be similar to the temperature rise in Ranicar, the plaintiff found it could not sell the units. For the reasons discussed, I am satisfied that, if the plaintiff cannot prove that the units were “physically damaged”, there nevertheless will have been “damage to the property” for the purposes of the plaintiff’s Business Assets insurance policy if the plaintiff can establish the following: Because the units were stored in premises affected by flooding the units would malfunction during use in the network on a date earlier than the date on which the units would normally be withdrawn from use and in consequence they are not fit for their intended use”.


In addition to helping to cement Ranicar’s status as a leading authority on damage in the insurance context, it arguably goes one step further by holding that the mere possibility of malfunction was sufficient to constitute damage where that risk impacting on value or usefulness.  The logic of the decision is sound, and merely extends existing principles rather than taking an entirely new approach, and the decision is certainly Good for policyholders.

Rob Goodship is a Senior Associate at Fenchurch Law