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Principles of Insurance

Updated on September 29, 2009


Human life is exposed to many risks, which may result in heavy financial losses. Insurance is one of the devices by which risks may be reduced or eliminated in exchange for premium. In words of Chief Justice Tindal, “Insurance is a contract in which a sum of money is paid by the assured in consideration of the insurer's incurring the risk of paying larger sum upon a given contingency”. In its legal aspects it is a contract whereby one person agrees to indemnify another against a loss which may happen or to pay a sum of money to him on the occurring of a particular event. All contracts of insurance (except marine insurance) may be verbal or in writing, but practically contracts of assurance are included in a document.

Basic principles of insurance

The following are the basic essentials 'or requirements of insurance irrespective of the type of insurance concerned.

1. Utmost good faith

All types of contracts of insurance depend upon the contracts of utmost good faith. Both parties (insurer and the insured) in the contract must disclose all material facts for the benefit of each other. False information or non-disclosure of any important fact makes the contract avoidable. So the conditions to show utmost good faith is very strict on the part of the insured.

2. Insurable Interest

The insured must possess an insurable interest in the object insured. It may be defined as a financial interest in the subject matter of contract. The presence of insurable interest is a legal requirement. So an insurance contract without the existence of insurable interest is not legally valid and cannot be claimed in a Court. The object of this principle is to prevent insurance from becoming a gambling contract.

3. Principle of indemnity

All types of contracts except life and personal accident insurance are contract of indemnity. According to them, the insurer undertakes to indemnify the insured against a loss of the subject matter of insurance due to insured cause. In life assurance the question of loss and, therefore, of its indemnification does not rise. Because the loss of life cannot be estimated in term of money. The principles of indemnity is based on the idea that the assured in the case of loss only shall be compensated against the actual total loss. But if no event happens, the insured has not to receive any amount, so in this case the premiums paid by him becomes the profit of the Insurer.

4. Doctrine of subrogation

This principle applies to the contract of indemnity only i.e. marine and fire. It lays down a principle which is quite equitable. According to this doctrine, where a loss occurs and the insurer pays as for a total loss, he is entitled to all the rights and remedies which the insured has against a third party in respect of loss so paid for. It prevents the insured being indemnified from two sources in respect of the same loss. Suppose ‘A’ has damaged ‘B’ is motor car negligently. If he pays ‘B’ is loss in full. B cannot collect the same from the insurance company. On the other hand if B applied to his insurance company for indemnity under his policy, he will not be permitted to collect the damages from A. In the latter case the insurance company will be entitled to collect that amount.

5. Doctrine of proximate cause

This principle is found very useful when the loss occurred due to series of events. It means that in deciding whether the loss has arisen through any of the risks insured against, the proximate or the nearest cause should be considered. To take an illustration in one case where a policy holder sustains an accident while hunting. He was unable to walk after the accident and as a result of lying on wet ground before being picked up, he suffered pneumonia. There was an unbroken change of cause between the accident and the death, and the proximate cause of the death, therefore, was the accident and not the pneumonia.

6. Cancellation

Both parties have right to cancel the policy before its expiry date. The period of .the policy comes to an end on the cancellation of policy. So the protection provided by the insurer to the insured stops from the date of such cancellation. The premium received by the insurance company is also returnable to the insured.

7. Attachment of risk

Without the attachment of definite risk to the policy, the contract of insurance cannot be in force. So in this case the consideration fails and the premium received by the insurance company must be returned.

8. Mitigation of loss

When the event insured against takes place, the policy holder must do every thing to minimize the loss and to save what is left. This principle makes the insured more careful in respect of this insured property.

9. Arbitration

Most fire and accident insurance policies contain an arbitration clause which provides for referring' to differences to an arbitration. The arbitrator is to be appointed in writing by the parties in difference. The object of this clause is to reduce litigation.


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