The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. #2 (The Ugly). Kosmar Villa Holidays plc

21 July 2017
By Michael Hayes

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 are cases that 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.

#2 (The Ugly)

Kosmar Villa Holidays plc -v- Trustees of Syndicate 1243 [2008] EWCA Civ 147

The issue in Kosmar Villa Holidays plc was whether an insurer’s conduct in investigating a claim prevented it from subsequently relying on a breach of a condition precedent to avoid liability.

The policyholder, a tour operator, Kosmar, made a claim under its public liability insurance in respect of injuries suffered by an individual who was paralysed after diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool at apartments in Greece operated by Kosmar.

In breach of a condition precedent requiring it to notify the insurer immediately after the occurrence of any injury, Kosmar did not do so for a year.

Once notified, the insurer did not immediately deny liability for breach of condition precedent but sought further information about the accident.

The Court of Appeal had to consider whether in dealing with the claim in this way, without expressly reserving its position or denying liability, there had been a waiver, either by election or estoppel, that meant that the insurer was no longer able to decline indemnity because of the late notification.

The Court found that waiver by election had no application to a breach of a procedural condition precedent. However, where, through its handling of a claim, an insurer made an unequivocal representation that it accepted liability, or would not rely on a breach of a condition precedent, and where there had been detrimental reliance by the policyholder, the doctrine of estoppel would protect the policyholder.

On the facts, there had been no unequivocal communication by the insurer and insufficient reliance or detriment on the part of Kosmar. It was not therefore inequitable for the insurer to rely on Kosmar’s breach of the condition precedent to decline indemnity.

In its judgment, the Court explored the tension between an insurer’s need to have sufficient time to investigate claims and the insured’s need to know where it stands as regards policy coverage. On one hand, insurers were not to be encouraged to repudiate claims or to reserve their rights without asking questions about the claim simply to avoid being taken to have waived their rights in respect of a breach of a condition precedent. To do so would be to push insurers into an over-hasty reliance on their procedural rights. On the other hand, insurers were not entitled to give the impression that they were treating the claim as covered without running the risk of having waived their right to avoid the policy.

The message for policyholders is that, in the absence of an express communication to that effect, it is not safe to assume from conduct alone that an insurer has waived a breach of a procedural condition precedent.