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General Structure of an Insurance Contract

8. What is the general structure of an insurance contract?

•    Declarations – The declarations section of an insurance contract identifies the parties to the contract and dictates that the following provisions constitute an insurance contract. It will generally state the intentions of the parties with regard to the subject-matter of the insurance, the term of the policy, the risks covered by the policy, the limits on payment in the event an insured risk occurs, and the financial obligations of the insured (premiums, deductibles, co-payments, etc.).

•    Definitions – Most insurance contracts contain a defined terms section that provides the common understanding of certain terms or phrases used throughout the insurance agreement. This section can be very important for avoiding ambiguities in the agreement.

•    Terms of Insurance – This section, often called the “insuring agreement”, lays out the promises of the insurance company to indemnify the insured against certain risks of loss. Specifically, it will describe the type of risks insured against and the person, property or subject matter covered under the policy. There are two basic forms of an insuring agreement:

⁃    Named Perils Coverage – This form of agreement insures perils specifically listed in the policy. If the peril is not listed, it is not covered.

⁃    All-Risk Coverage – This form of agreement insures all losses suffered to a person or specific property except those losses specifically excluded. If the loss is not excluded, it is covered.

•    Exclusions – Exclusions are types of contingent risk that are not covered or insured under a policy. There are three major types of exclusions:

⁃    Excluded Perils or Causes of Loss – For example, homeowner’s insurance may exclude damages caused by flooding.

⁃    Excluded Losses – For example, an automobile policy may exclude normal wear and tear from everyday use.

⁃    Excluded property – For example, a homeowner’s policy may not include certain personal property located within the home.

•    Conditions – Conditions are contractual provisions that require a certain fact or circumstance come about before duties or obligations arise under the contract. If policy conditions are not met, the insurer is not obligated to insure against the loss that is subject to that condition. That is, the insurer will deny a claim for losses if an applicable condition in the policy is not satisfied. For example, the insurer may make filing a claim and providing proof of loss a condition to coverage.

•    Endorsements – These are forms attached to the main insurance policy used to modify the duties or obligations under the policy. Often endorsements will place some condition on the insurer’s duty to indemnify the insured or cover a particular type of loss. They may also modify or delete express clauses present within the core of the insurance policy. This is the primary method by which underwriters tailor a specific policy to cover a particular insured.

•    Policy Riders – Policy riders are amendments to an existing policy. The rider contains the amended terms and becomes part of the original insurance contract. An insurer will use a rider any time that the terms of coverage change under an insured’s policy.

•    Policy Jackets or Binders – Insurers often issue a policy within a policy jacket. The jacket is a cover, binder, envelope, or folder containing the policy. The binder will often contain boilerplate provisions of the insurance policy. Some insurers now append material to the insurance policy that contains the standard boilerplate provisions, instead of including those provisions on the jacket.

•    Discussion: You will notice that an insurance contract follows a similar format to most contracts, but it contains several insurance-specific provisions. Why do you think that insurance contracts employ endorsements and riders to modify the terms of the existing agreement and the duties of the parties? How do you feel about the use of exclusions and conditions in the insurance policy? How do you balance the insured’s need for these policies against the potential abuse of insured parties?

•    Practice Question: ABC Corp has a general liability policy with 123 Insurance. What terms are likely covered in the policy? ABC wants to modify the policy by increasing the coverage limits. What will ABC need to complete to modify the policy?

 

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