This September marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London which led to both modern property insurance and fire brigades as we know them. I intend on writing an extended piece for this blog and am currently working on a coffee table book with my son, which will come out closer to the September anniversary.
Just as important, in my opinion, is the fact it is the 250th anniversary of the court case that led to the enshrining of the principle of Utmost Good Faith into insurance. The case we owe this to is Carter v. Boehm (1766), 3 Burr. 1905
In the course of his judgement, the famous. Lord Mansfield stated:
“Insurance is a contract upon speculation. The special facts, upon which the contingent chance is to be computed, lie most commonly in the knowledge of the insured only: the underwriters trusts to his representation, and proceeds upon confidence that he does not keep back any circumstance in his knowledge, to mislead the underwriter into a belief that the circumstance does not exist, and to induce him to estimate the risk, as if it did not exist.
“The keeping back such circumstance is a fraud, and therefore the policy is void. Although the suppression should happen through mistake, without any fraudulent intention, yet still the underwriter is deceived, and the policy is void, because the risk run is really different from the risk understood and intended to be run, at the time of the agreement.
“The policy would be equally void, against the underwriter if he concealed; as, if he insured a ship on her voyage, which he privately knew to be arrived; and an action would lie to recover the premium.
“The governing principle is applicable to all contracts and dealings. Good faith forbids either party, by concealing what he privately knows, to draw the other into a bargain, from his ignorance of the fact and his believing and the contrary.
“But either party may be innocently silent, as to grounds open to both, to exercise their judgement upon… There are many matters as to which the insured may be innocently silent. He need not mention what the underwriter knows… An underwriter cannot insist that the policy is void because the insured did not tell him what he actually knew; what way soever he came to the knowledge. The insured need not mention what the underwriter ought to know; what he takes upon himself the knowledge of; or what he waives being informed of. The underwriter needs not to be told what lessens the risk agreed and understood to be run by the express terms of the policy. He needs not to be told general topics of speculation…”
In this first case it was found that the insurer had not acted in good faith and the client was entitled to have their claim paid.
While the Insurance Contracts Act,  (Cth of Australia) reaffirmed that this principle is the cornerstone of the insurance industry, I question when I see extremely low ball offers of settlement made to an insured, decisions to delay payments to force an insured into accepting a lower settlement, the events leading up to the portrayal of our industry around some investigators and the handling of life insurance claims, ignoring conflicts of interest, and if we are honest with ourselves what are in effect hidden commissions, if Utmost Good Faith is being given anything but lip service on the one hand but being held as something that the insured must exhibit at every turn on the other.
To examine these issues and others surrounding them to me is a vitally important underlying principle of insurance, barrister Greg Pynt from Perth and I are underwriting a one off special conference in Bengkulu, Sumatra (Indonesia) on 1 & 2 October. This location was chosen as it is very near the location of the loss which gave rise to the Carter v Boehm case. [A visit to the restored structure ( a fort) will be part of the event.]
A range of excellent speakers including Prof Robin Pearson from Hull University is being put together. Greg is up in Bengkulu this week to make sure all the logistics are in place for a smooth running of the event. While Greg and I are behind the conference and underwriting it from a cost perspective, the conference is being organised by Conference Images a company well known to many readers.
The cost of the conference which includes registration, tour speakers, lunches and dinners is a very reasonable $850 plus GST. To learn more please down load the Bengkulu Flyer or go to www.CartervBoehm.com
. Finally Greg or I are happy to take your enquiries.
The concept behind this website is that it will remain active in perpetuity with papers from the conference, photos and videos of the presentations available for use into the future and hopefully reviewed at the 300th and other milestone anniversaries of this seminal case. Obviously other papers and items of interest on the topic will be added to the proposed knowledge data base.
The final point I would make is that Greg and I are not doing this for any financial gain. It is purely for educational and research purposes for the benefit of attendees, the wider insurance community and for future generations of insurance professionals. If the conference runs at a loss we will bear the cost equally between the two of us. If it runs at a profit, all profit will be donated to an education facility in or near Bengkulu to benefit the youth of that community.
Please come along. It will be a most interesting and informative event.