Case Law

The ordinary measure of indemnity: Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) SE v Western Trading Limited

13 October 2016
By Michael Hayes

In the latest in a series of pro-policyholder decisions by the courts, the Court of Appeal yesterday handed down a judgment upholding the trial judge’s ruling that a policyholder was entitled to be reimbursed by its insurers as and when it reinstated its premises (the historic Boak Building in Walsall) which had been destroyed by fire.

The Insuring Clause in the policy merely stated that insurers agreed “to the extent and in the manner provided herein to indemnify the Assured against loss of or damage to the property specified in the Schedule.” However, there was a separate reinstatement clause (“the Memorandum”) which stated that, in the event of damage or destruction, the indemnity was to be calculated by reference to the reinstatement of the property destroyed or damaged but only if the reinstatement was carried out “with reasonable despatch”, failing which only the amount which would have been payable under the policy, absent the Memorandum, would be due.

No reinstatement had occurred by the time of the trial, for the simple reason that the insurers had denied all liability under the policy, relying on various defences in relation to misrepresentation, breach of warranty and insurable interest. These were all rejected by the Judge, and there was no appeal on that score, the Insurers’ appeal being confined to the correct measure of indemnity.

There was disagreement between the parties as to whether the Memorandum could be relied on, and thus the Court of Appeal considered what would be the correct measure of indemnity assuming it were indeed inapplicable.

Insurers argued that, on the facts of this case, the relevant measure of indemnity was the reduction in the building’s value. Its market value just before the fire had been a mere £75,000. That reflected the fact that it was virtually derelict but, since it was Grade II Listed, it was not capable of being economically converted into (say) a block of flats. Ironically, its value had increased after the fire, since it lost its listed status and thus could now be redeveloped. Insurers thus argued that there was no loss, and nothing for them to indemnify.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. It held that, where the policyholder was the owner of the property or, if not, where it was obliged to replace the property (here the policyholder was the lessee of the building and owed the owner an obligation to repair it), the indemnity under the policy was ordinarily to be assessed as the cost of reinstatement. The Court of Appeal recognised that the position would be different if, at the time of the loss, the policyholder was trying to sell the property or intended to demolish it anyway.

The Court of Appeal also recognised, as had the trial judge, that an insurer who paid out the cost of reinstatement would have no redress if the policyholder then decided simply to keep the insurance proceeds. It held that the insurers could be protected if, rather than their being ordered to pay an immediate sum of money, the court instead made a declaration requiring insurers to reimburse the policyholder for the actual reinstatement costs as and when incurred.

Finally, it should be noted that the Court of Appeal held that, where a reinstatement clause required the policyholder to undertake the works of reinstatement “with all reasonable despatch”, it would not be in breach of that requirement unless and until insurers had confirmed indemnity under the policy. That is an obvious victory for common sense, even if it might be thought depressing that the Insurers would really have wished to argue that a policyholder could legitimately be prejudiced by a combination of its own impecuniosity and insurers’ unlawful refusal to affirm cover.

See: Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) SE v Western Trading Limited [2016] EWCA Civ 1003.

Jonathan Corman is a Partner at Fenchurch Law.