Fire Insurance Under Indian Insurance Law
A contract of Insurance comes into being when a person seeking insurance protection enters into a contract with the insurer to indemnify him against loss of property by or incidental to fire and or lightening, explosion, etc. This is primarily a contract and hence as is governed by the general law of contract. However, it has certain special features as insurance transactions, such as utmost faith, insurable interest, indemnity, subrogation and contribution, etc. these principles are common in all insurance contracts and are governed by special principles of law.
According to S. 2(6A), “fire insurance business” means the business of effecting, otherwise than incidentally to some other class of insurance business, contracts of insurance against loss by or incidental to fire or other occurrence, customarily included among the risks insured against in fire insurance business.
According to Halsbury, it is a contract of insurance by which the insurer agrees for consideration to indemnify the assured up to a certain extent and subject to certain terms and conditions against loss or damage by fire, which may happen to the property of the assured during a specific period.
Thus, fire insurance is a contract whereby the person, seeking insurance protection, enters into a contract with the insurer to indemnify him against loss of property by or incidental to fire or lightning, explosion etc. This policy is designed to insure one’s property and other items from loss occurring due to complete or partial damage by fire.
In its strict sense, a fire insurance contract is one:
1. Whose principle object is insurance against loss or damage occasioned by fire.
2. The extent of insurer’s liability being limited by the sum assured and not necessarily by the extent of loss or damage sustained by the insured: and
3. The insurer having no interest in the safety or destruction of the insured property apart from the liability undertaken under the contract.
LAW GOVERNING FIRE INSURANCE
There is no statutory enactment governing fire insurance, as in the case of marine insurance which is regulated by the Indian Marine Insurance Act, 1963. the Indian Insurance Act, 1938 mainly dealt with regulation of insurance business as such and not with any general or special principles of the law relating fire of other insurance contracts. So also the General Insurance Business (Nationalization) Act, 1872. in the absence of any legislative enactment on the subject , the courts in India have in dealing with the topic of fire insurance have relied so far on judicial decisions of Courts and opinions of English Jurists.
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In determining the value of property damaged or destroyed by fire for the purpose of indemnity under a policy of fire insurance, it was the value of the property to the insured, which was to be measured. Prima facie that value was measured by reference of the market value of the property before and after the loss. However such method of assessment was not applicable in cases where the market value did not represent the real value of the property to the insured, as where the property was used by the insured as a home or, for carrying business. In such cases, the measure of indemnity was the cost of reinstatement. In the case of Lucas v. New Zealand Insurance Co. Ltd. where the insured property was purchased and held as an income-producing investment, and therefore the court held that the proper measure of indemnity for damage to the property by fire was the cost of reinstatement.
A person who is so interested in a property as to have benefit from its existence and prejudice by its destruction is said to have insurable interest in that property. Such a person can insure the property against fire.
The interest in the property must exist both at the inception as well as at the time of loss. If it does not exist at the commencement of the contract it cannot be the subject-matter of the insurance and if it does not exist at the time of the loss, he suffers no loss and needs no indemnity. Thus, where he sells the insured property and it is damaged by fire thereafter, he suffers no loss.
RISKS COVERED UNDER FIRE INSURANCE POLICY
The date of conclusion of a contract of insurance is issuance of the policy is different from the acceptance or assumption of risk. Section 64-VB only lays down broadly that the insurer cannot assume risk prior to the date of receipt of premium. Rule 58 of the Insurance Rules, 1939 speaks about advance payment of premiums in view of sub section (!) of Section 64 VB which enables the insurer to assume the risk from the date onwards. If the proposer did not desire a particular date, it was possible for the proposer to negotiate with insurer about that term. Precisely, therefore the Apex Court has said that final acceptance is that of the assured or the insurer depends simply on the way in which negotiations for insurance have progressed. Though the following are risks which seem to have covered Fire Insurance Policy but are not totally covered under the Policy. Some of contentious areas are as follows:
FIRE: Destruction or damage to the property insured by its own fermentation, natural heating or spontaneous combustion or its undergoing any heating or drying process cannot be treated as damage due to fire. For e.g., paints or chemicals in a factory undergoing heat treatment and consequently damaged by fire is not covered. Further, burning of property insured by order of any Public Authority is excluded from the scope of cover.
LIGHTNING : Lightning may result in fire damage or other types of damage, such as a roof broken by a falling chimney struck by lightning or cracks in a building due to a lightning strike. Both fire and other types of damages caused by lightning are covered by the policy.
AIRCRAFT DAMAGE: The loss or damage to property (by fire or otherwise) directly caused by aircraft and other aerial devices and/ or articles dropped there from is covered. However, destruction or damage resulting from pressure waves caused by aircraft traveling at supersonic speed is excluded from the scope of the policy.
RIOTS, STRIKES, MALICIOUS AND TERRORISM DAMAGES: The act of any person taking part along with others in any disturbance of public peace (other than war, invasion, mutiny, civil commotion etc.) is construed to be a riot, strike or a terrorist activity. Unlawful action would not be covered under the policy.
STORM, CYCLONE, TYPHOON, TEMPEST, HURRICANE, TORNADO, FLOOD and INUNDATION: Storm, Cyclone, Typhoon, Tempest, Tornado and Hurricane are all various types of violent natural disturbances that are accompanied by thunder or strong winds or heavy rainfall. Flood or Inundation occurs when the water rises to an abnormal level. Flood or inundation should not only be understood in the common sense of the terms, i.e., flood in river or lakes, but also accumulation of water due to choked drains would be deemed to be flood.
IMPACT DAMAGE: Impact by any Rail/ Road vehicle or animal by direct contact with the insured property is covered. However, such vehicles or animals should not belong to or owned by the insured or any occupier of the premises or their employees while acting in the course of their employment.
SUBSIDENCE AND LANDSLIDE INCULUDING ROCKSIDE: Destruction or damage caused by Subsidence of part of the site on which the property stands or Landslide/ Rockslide is covered. While Subsidence means sinking of land or building to a lower level, Landslide means sliding down of land usually on a hill.
However, normal cracking, settlement or bedding down of new structures; settlement or movement of made up ground; coastal or river erosion; defective design or workmanship or use of defective materials; and demolition, construction, structural alterations or repair of any property or ground-works or excavations, are not covered.
BURSTING AND/OR OVERFLOWING OF WATER TANKS, APPARATUS AND PIPES: Loss or damage to property by water or otherwise on account of bursting or accidental overflowing of water tanks, apparatus and pipes is covered.
MISSILE TESTING OPERATIONS: Destruction or damage, due to impact or otherwise from trajectory/ projectiles in connection with missile testing operations by the Insured or anyone else, is covered.
LEAKAGE FROM AUTOMATIC SPRINKLER INSTALLATIONS: Damage, caused by water accidentally discharged or leaked out from automatic sprinkler installations in the insured’s premises, is covered. However, such destruction or damage caused by repairs or alterations to the buildings or premises; repairs removal or extension of the sprinkler installation; and defects in construction known to the insured, are not covered.
BUSH FIRE: This covers damage caused by burning, whether accidental or otherwise, of bush and jungles and the clearing of lands by fire, but excludes destruction or damage, caused by Forest Fire.
RISKS NOT COVERED BY FIRE INSURANCE POLICY
Claims not maintainable/ covered under this policy are as follows:
o Theft during or after the occurrence of any insured risks
o War or nuclear perils
o Electrical breakdowns
o Ordered burning by a public authority
o Subterranean fire
o Loss or damage to bullion, precious stones, curios (value more than Rs.10000), plans, drawings, money, securities, cheque books, computer records except if they are categorically included.
o Loss or damage to property moved to a different location (except machinery and equipment for cleaning, repairs or renovation for more than 60 days).
CHARACTERICTICS OF FIRE INSURANCE CONTRACT
A fire insurance contract has the following characteristics namely:
(a) Fire insurance is a personal contract
A fire insurance contract does not ensure the safety of the insured property. Its purpose is to see that the insured does not suffer loss by reason of his interest in the insured property. Hence, if his connection with the insured property ceases by being transferred to another person, the contract of insurance also comes to an end. It is not so connected with the subject matter of the insurance as to pass automatically to the new owner to whom the subject is transferred. The contract of fire insurance is thus a mere a personal contract between the insured and the insurer for the payment of money. It can be validly assigned to another only with the consent of the insurer.