Supreme Court Clarifies the Law on CTL Calculation in Marine Insurance

The Swedish Club v Connect Shipping (The MV Renos) [2019] UKSC 29

Under s. 60(2)(ii) of the Marine Insurance Act (MIA) 1906, there is constructive total loss (CTL) when the insured ship is damaged by a peril it’s insured against and the cost of repairing said damage would exceed the insured value of the ship when repaired. In estimating the cost of repairs for the purposes of this provision, it has been held by Knowles, J, [2016] EWHC 1580 (Comm) that i) the costs incurred prior to the date of notice of abandonment and ii) the costs of salvage operations performed before the notice of abandonment, including sums payable under the SCOPIC clause, should be taken into account.

The underwriters’ appeal to the Court of Appeal on these points was rejected unanimously [2018] EWCA Civ 230 (per Hamblen, LJ, with whom Simon, LJ and Sir Geoffrey Vos C agreed). In a previous case note, the author was critical of the Court of Appeal’s reasoning, especially with regard to the second point, i.e. taking into account SCOPIC expenses incurred before the notice of abandonment in estimating the cost of repairs.

The Supreme Court (composed of Lords Sumption, Reed, Hodge, Kitchin and Lloyd Jones) allowed the appeal on this ground holding that SCOPIC charges cannot be considered as part of the “cost of repairing the damage” under s. 60(2)(ii) of the MIA 1906 (or the “cost of recovery and/or repair” under clause 19.2 of the Institute Hull Clauses). The Supreme Court stressed that the primary purpose of SCOPIC expenditure is to protect owners’ potential liability for environmental pollution not to enable the ship to be repaired. Hence, such expenditure is not connected with the damage to the hull or its hypothetical reinstatement and the mere fact that a prudent uninsured owner would have contracted with the same contractors for both prevention of environmental pollution and protection of the property does not make them indivisible. The author believes that the Supreme Court’s decision on this issue is intuitive and makes sense.   

On the issue of whether expenses incurred prior to the notice of abandonment should count towards the calculation of a CTL under s. 60(2)(ii) of the MIA 1906, the Supreme Court rejecting the submission of the underwriters, affirmed the findings of the lower courts. The Supreme Court approached the matter with reference to basic principles of insurance law indicating that several older judgements on the matter (in particular Hall v. Hayman (1912) 17 Comm Cases 81 and The Medina Princess [1965] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 361) lacked reasoning and legal argument. Taking into account the objective character of the factual enquiry of whether a vessel is a CTL and the fact that in marine insurance context the loss is suffered at the time of the casualty, the Supreme Court was adamant that the reference to “damage” in s. 60(2)(ii) was in fact reference to the entire damage arising from the casualty from the moment that it happened. Therefore, it cannot make any difference when costs are incurred, i.e. pre or post notice of abandonment. On that premise, the Supreme Court evaluated whether this principle might be affected by the legal requirement for a notice of abandonment but reached the conclusion that it is not.                   

At the commencement of litigation, it was agreed by the parties that, to be declared a CTL under s. 60 of the MIA 1906, the repair costs needed to be in excess of US$ 8 million. The matter in the light of the Supreme Court judgment will be remitted to the trial judge to determine whether the vessel had been a CTL and what financial consequences would follow from that. 

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