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Characteristics of Insurance Contracts - Part 2
Extent to which Insurable Interest Limits Payment
In contrast to property insurance, life insurance payments are usually not limited by insurable interest. Most life insurance contracts are considered to be valued policies,  or contracts that agree to pay a stated sum upon the occurrence of the event insured against, rather than to indemnify for loss sustained.
For example, a life insurance contract provides that the insurer will pay a specified sum to the beneficiary upon receipt of proof of death of the person whose life is the subject of the insurance. The beneficiary does not have to prove that any loss has been suffered because he or she is not required to have an insurable interest.
Some health insurance policies provide that the insurance company will pay a specified number of dollars per day while the insured is hospitalized. Such policies are not contracts of indemnity; they simply promise to make cash payments under specified circumstances.
This makes such a contract “incomplete,” as discussed in the introduction to this chapter. This also leads to more litigation because there are no explicit payout amounts written into the contract while improvements in medical technology change the possible treatments daily.
In the case of property insurance, the amount the insured is able to collect is limited by the extent of such interest. For example, if you have a one-half interest in a building that is worth $1,000,000 at the time it is destroyed by fire, you cannot collect more than $500,000 from the insurance company.
If you could collect more than the amount of your insurable interest, you would make a profit on the fire. This would violate the principle of indemnity. An exception exists in some states where valued policy laws are in effect. These laws require insurers to pay the full amount of insurance sold if property is totally destroyed. The intent of the law is to discourage insurers from selling too much coverage.
Extent to which Insurable Interest Limits Payment (Continued)
Although an insurable interest must exist at the inception of a life insurance contract to make it enforceable, the amount of payment is usually not limited by the extent of such insurable interest. The amount of life insurance collectible at the death of an insured is limited only by the amount insurers are willing to issue and by the insured’s premium-paying ability. 
The life insurance payout amount is expressed explicitly in the contract. Thus, in most cases, it is not subject to litigation and arguments over the coverage. The amount of the proceeds of a life insurance policy that may be collected by a creditor- beneficiary, however, is generally limited to the amount of the debt and the premiums paid by the creditor, plus interest. 
Subrogation gives the insurer whatever claim against third parties the insured may have as a result of the loss for which the insurer paid.
The principle of indemnity is also supported by the right of subrogation.
The right of subrogation is a common law right the insurer has without a contractual agreement. It is specifically stated in the policy, however, so that the insured will be aware of it and refrain from releasing the party responsible for the loss.
The standard personal auto policy, for example, provides that:
“If we make a payment under this policy and the person to or for whom payment was made has a right to recover damages from another, that person shall subrogate that right to us. That person shall do whatever is necessary to enable us to exercise our rights and shall do nothing after loss to prejudice them.
If we make a payment under this policy and the person to or for whom payment is made recovers damages from another, that person shall hold in trust for us the proceeds of the recovery and shall reimburse us to the extent of our payment”.
If your house is damaged because a neighbor burned leaves and negligently permitted the fire to get out of control, you have a right to collect damages from the neighbor because a negligent wrongdoer is responsible to others for the damage or injury he or she causes.
If your house is insured against loss by fire, however, you cannot collect from both the insurance company and the negligent party who caused the damage. Your insurance company will pay for the damage and is then subrogated (that is, given) your right to collect damages. The insurer may then sue the negligent party and collect from him or her. This prevents you from making a profit by collecting twice for the same loss.
Actual Cash Value
Actual cash value is not defined in the policy, but a generally accepted notion of it is the replacement cost at the time of the loss, less physical depreciation, including obsolescence.
This clause is included in many property insurance policies. An insured generally does not receive an amount greater than the actual loss suffered because the policy limits payment to actual cash value. A typical property insurance policy says, for example, that the company insures “to the extent of actual cash value…but not exceeding the amount which it would cost to repair or replace…and not in any event for more than the interest of the insured.”
If the roof on your house has an expected life of twenty years, roughly half its value is gone at the end of ten years. If it is damaged by an insured peril at that time, the insurer will pay the cost of replacing the damaged portion, less depreciation.
You must bear the burden of the balance. If the replacement cost of the damaged portion is $2,000 at the time of a loss, but the depreciation is $800, the insurer will pay $1,200 and you will bear an $800 expense.
Actual Cash Value (Continued)
Another definition of actual cash value is fair market value, which is the amount a willing buyer would pay a willing seller.
For auto insurance, where thousands of units of nearly identical property exist, fair market value may be readily available. Retail value, as listed in the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) guide or the Kelley Blue Book, may be used.
For other types of property, however, the definition may be deceptively simple. How do you determine what a willing buyer would be willing to pay a willing seller? The usual approach is to compare sales prices of similar property and adjust for differences.
If three houses similar to yours in your neighborhood have recently sold for
$190,000, then that is probably the fair market value of your home. You may, of course, believe your house is worth far more because you think it has been better maintained than the other houses.
Such a process for determining fair market value may be time-consuming and unsatisfactory, so it is seldom used for determining actual cash value. However, it may be used when obsolescence or neighborhood deterioration causes fair market value to be much less than replacement cost minus depreciation.
Other Insurance Provisions
The purpose of other insurance provisions in insurance contracts is to prevent insureds from making a profit by collecting from more than one insurance policy for the same loss.
Most policies (other than life insurance) have some provision to prevent insureds from making a profit from a loss through ownership of more than one policy. The homeowner’s policy, for example, provides a clause about other insurance, or pro rata liability, that reads as follows:
“If a loss covered by this policy is also covered by other insurance, we will pay only the proportion of the loss that the limit of liability that applies under this policy bears to the total amount of insurance covering the loss”.
For example, if you have more than one policy protecting you against a particular loss, there is a possibility that by collecting on all policies, you may profit from the loss. This would, of course, violate the principle of indemnity.
Insurance contracts are personal, meaning they insure against loss to a person, not to the person’s property.
As you saw in module 2 , underwriters are as concerned about who it is they are insuring as they are about the nature of the property involved, if not more so.
You may say, “My car is insured.” Actually, you are insured against financial loss
caused by something happening to your car.
If you sell the car, insurance does not automatically pass to the new owner. It may be assigned,  but only with the consent of the insurer. The personal auto policy, for example, provides that your rights and duties under this policy may not be assigned without our written consent.
If you have an excellent driving record and are a desirable insured, the underwriter is willing to accept your application for insurance. If you sell your car to an eighteen-year-old male who has already wrecked two cars this
year, however, the probability of loss increases markedly.
Clearly, the insurer does not want to assume that kind of risk without proper compensation, so it protects itself by requiring written consent for assignment.
Unlike property insurance, life insurance policies are freely assignable. This is a result of the way life insurance practice developed before policies accumulated cash values.
Whether or not change of ownership affects the probability of the insured’s death is a matter for conjecture. In life insurance, the policyowner is not necessarily the recipient of the policy proceeds. As with an auto policy, the subject of the insurance (the life insured) is the same regardless of who owns the policy.
Suppose you assign your life insurance policy (including the right to name a beneficiary) to your spouse while you are on good terms. Such an assignment may not affect the probability of your death.
On the other hand, two years and two spouses later, the one to whom you assigned the policy may become impatient about the long prospective wait for death benefits. Changing life insurance policy owners may not change the risk as much as, say, changing auto owners, but it could (murder is quite different from stealing). Nevertheless, life insurance policies can be assigned without the insurer’s consent.
Suppose you assign the rights to your life insurance policy to another person and then surrender it for the cash value before the insurance company knows of the assignment. Will the person to whom you assigned the policy rights also be able to collect the cash value?
To avoid litigation and to eliminate the possibility of having to make double payment, life insurance policies provide that the company is not bound by an assignment until it has received written notice. The answer to this question, therefore, generally is no. The notice requirements, however, may be rather low. A prudent insurer may hesitate to pay off life insurance proceeds when even a slight indication of an assignment (or change in beneficiary) exists.
In this section you studied the following:
Insurance contracts are contracts of utmost good faith, so potential insureds are held to the highest standards of truthfulness and honesty in providing information (making representations) to the underwriter
Insurance contracts are contracts of adhesion because the insured must accept the terms as stipulated; in disputes between insureds and insurers, this feature has led courts generally to side with insureds where policy ambiguity is concerned
Insurance contracts are contracts of indemnity (the insurer will pay no more or no less than the actual loss incurred); indemnity is supported by the concepts of the following:
- Insurable interest
- Actual cash value provisions
- Other insurance provisions
Insurance contracts are personal, meaning that people are insured against losses rather than property; insurers often require written consent of assignment when insureds wish to assign coverage with the transfer of property
1. Assume that you are a key employee and that your employer can buy an insurance policy on your life and collect the proceeds, even if you are no longer with the firm at the time of your death. Clearly, if you leave the firm, your employer no longer has an insurable interest in your life and would gain by your death. Would this situation make you uncomfortable? What if you learned that your former employer was in financial difficulty? Do you think the law should permit a situation of this kind? How is this potential problem typically solved? Relate your situation to the janitor’s insurance stories described in this chapter.
2. Does the fact that an insurance policy is a contract of adhesion make it difficult for insurers to write it in simple, easy-to-understand terms? Explain.
3. If your house is destroyed by fire because of your neighbor’s negligence, your insurer may recover from your neighbor what it previously paid you under its right of subrogation. This prevents you from collecting twice for the same loss. But the insurer collects premiums to pay losses and then recovers from negligent persons who cause them. Isn’t that double recovery? Explain.
4. If you have a $100,000 insurance policy on your house but it is worth only $80,000 at the time it is destroyed by fire, your insurer will pay you only $80,000. You paid for $100,000 of insurance but you get only $80,000. Are you being cheated? Explain.
5. Who makes the offer in insurance transactions? Why is the answer to this question
 Warranties are no longer as prevalent. However, they are stringent requirements that insureds must follow for coverage to exist. They were considered necessary in the early days of marine insurance because insurers were forced to rely on the truthfulness of policyholders in assessing risk (often, the vessel was already at sea when coverage was procured, and thus inspection was not possible). Under modern conditions, however, insurers generally do not find themselves at such a disadvantage. As a result, courts rarely enforce insurance warranties, treating them instead as representations. Our discussion here, therefore, will omit presentation of warranties. See Kenneth S. Abraham, Insurance Law and Regulation: Cases and
Materials (Westbury, NY: Foundation Press, 1990) for a discussion.
 Some policies are designed through the mutual effort of insurer and insured. These “manuscript policies” might not place the same burden on the insurer regarding ambiguities.
 See Robert E. Keeton, Basic Text on Insurance Law (St. Paul, MI: West Publishing Company, 1971), 351. While this reference is now almost forty years old, it remains perhaps the most popular insurance text available.
 In some states, a valued policy law requires payment of the face amount of property insurance in the event of total loss, regardless of the value of the dwelling. Other policy provisions, such as deductibles and coinsurance, may also affect the insurer’s effort to indemnify you.
 Although a person who dies suffers a loss, he or she cannot be indemnified. Because the purpose of the principle of insurable interest is to implement the doctrine of indemnity, it has no application in the case of a person insuring his or her own life. Such a contract cannot be one of indemnity.
 The person whose death requires the insurer to pay the proceeds of a life insurance policy is usually listed in the policy as the insured. He or she is also known as the cestuique vie or the subject. The beneficiary is the person (or other entity) entitled to the proceeds of the policy upon the death of the subject. The owner of the policy is the person (or other entity) who has the authority to exercise all the prematurity rights of the policy, such as designating the beneficiary, taking a policy loan, and so on. Often, the insured is also the owner.
 Lynn Asinof, “Is Selling Your Life Insurance Good Policy in the Long-Term?” Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2002.
 Ron Panko, “Is There Still Room for Viaticals?” Best’s Review, April 2002.
 “Life Settlement Group Sets Premium Finance Guidelines,” National Underwriter Online News Service, April 5, 2005; “Firm to Offer Regular Life Settlement Rating Reports,” National
Underwriter Online News Service, April 21, 2005; and Jim Connolly, “Institutions Reshape Life Settlement Market,”National Underwriter, Life/Health Edition, September 16, 2004.
 Allison Bell, “Life Settlement Firms Face Jumbled Regulatory Picture,”National Underwriter, Life/Health Edition, September 16, 2004.
 Theo Francis and Ellen E. Schultz, “Big Banks Quietly Pile Up ‘Janitors’ Insurance,’” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2002.
 Sarah Lunday, “Business Giants Could Profit from Life Insurance on Workers,” The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, May 12, 2002: “Some of Charlotte’s biggest companies- Bank of America Corp., Wachovia Corp. and Duke Energy Corp. included-stand to reap profits from life insurance policies purchased on current and former workers. In some cases, the policies may have been purchased without the workers or their families ever knowing.”
 Arthur D. Postal, “House Revives COLI Bill,” National Underwriter Online News Service, May 12, 2005.
 Some property insurance policies are written on a valued basis, but precautions are taken to ensure that values agreed upon are realistic, thus adhering to the principle of indemnity.
 Life and health insurance companies have learned, however, that overinsurance may lead to poor underwriting experience. Because the loss caused by death or illness cannot be measured precisely, defining overinsurance is difficult. It may be said to exist when the amount of insurance is clearly in excess of the economic loss that may be suffered. Extreme cases, such as the individual whose earned income is $300 per week but who may receive $500 per week in disability insurance benefits from an insurance company while he or she is ill, are easy to identify. Life and health insurers engage in financial underwriting to detect overinsurance. The
requested amount of insurance is related to the proposed insured’s (beneficiary’s) financial need for insurance and premium-paying ability.
 This is an area in which it is difficult to generalize; the statement made in the text is approximately correct. The point is that the creditor-debtor relationship is an exception to the statement that an insurable interest need not exist at the time of the death of the insured and that the amount of payment is not limited to the insurable interest that existed at the inception of the contract. For further discussion, see Kenneth Black, Jr., and Harold Skipper, Jr., Life Insurance, 12th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1994), 187-88.
 A complete assignment is the transfer of ownership or benefits of a policy.
END of UNIT
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