Non-Disclosure, Materiality and Inducement in Commercial Insurance Context (Again)!

What happens if an assured fails to disclose to the insurer the fact that special conditions were imposed by another insurer as part of another insurance contract? Could that amount to an actionable non-disclosure under s. 18 of the Marine Insurance Act (MIA) 1906? This was the main issue in Niramax Group Ltd v. Zurich Insurance plc [2020] EWHC 535 (Comm). The assured, Niramax, is a company carrying out the business of waste collection and waste cycling from various sites in north-east England. Niramax held a suite of insurance policies with the insurer, Zurich, which provided cover for a variety of risks relating to its plant and machinery. One of these policies was a contractor’s plant policy which provided all risks cover for a mobile plant owned by the assured (the Policy). Niramax also held buildings cover separately with a variety of other insurers. One of these insurers was Millennium Insurance. In the process of providing insurance cover for a building owned by Niramax in 2014, a risk survey report was prepared by Millennium which laid out seven risk requirements. One of these requirements was the installation of a fire suppression system at the main recycling facility of Niramax located at Hartlepool. Even though the assured was reminded by Millennium of the need to install the fire suppression system on several occasions, the system was never installed and as a result special conditions stipulated by the policy came into force on 22 October 2014 increasing the deductible to £ 250,000 and requiring Niramax to self-insure for thirty five percent of the balance of any loss.

In December 2014, Niramax renewed its policy with Zurich on the mobile plant. In 2015, Niramax acquired another mobile plant (Eggersmann plant) and in September 2015, Zurich was persuaded to amend the Policy to extend cover to the newly acquired plant until the renewal date of mid-December 2015. On 4 December 2015, a fire broke out at Niramax’s premises and the Eggersmann plant along with the other plant was destroyed.
Niramax made a claim, which, at trial was valued at around £ 4.5 million, under the Policy. The majority of the claim related to the loss of the Eggersmann plant, which was valued around £ 4.3 million. Zurich refused to pay stating that it was entitled to avoid the Policy for material non-disclosure and/or misrepresentation. Niramax brought the current proceedings against Zurich.

It was held that the assured’s non-compliance with risk requirements under the buildings policy with Millennium and the imposition of special terms under that policy were materials facts which needed to be disclosed under s. 18(1) of the MIA 1906. However, the insurer (Zurich) failed to demonstrate that, if the facts had been fully disclosed, the Policy for the plant (effected in December 2014) would have been renewed. On the other hand, Zurich was able to demonstrate that, if the facts had been fully disclosed (especially imposition of special circumstances for the assured company (Niramax) by another insurer), the extension of cover for the Eggersmann plant would have been refused. Accordingly, it was held that the insurer, Zurich, was entitled to avoid the cover for the endorsement under the Policy and no indemnity was due for the loss of the Eggermanns plant. The insurer was required to return the premium received for the endorsement. Otherwise, the original Policy stood and the insurer was bound to indemnify Niramax for the items of mobile plant which were covered by the original Policy (as renewed in December 2014) and damaged in the fire.

Two comments are in order. First, it is interesting to see that the trial judge (Mrs Justice Cockerril) found that the original policy stood (i.e. there was no inducement) even though it would have not been written on the same terms (i.e. with higher premium to reflect the correct multiplier) if full disclosure had been made by the assured. This certainly raises an interesting question going forward on the application of the test of inducement and seems to be at odds with the sentiments expressed by Clarke, LJ, in Assicurazioni Generali SpA v. Arab Insurance Group [2002] EWCA Civ 1642; [2003] Lloyd’s Rep IR 131, at [62] (emphasis added):
In order to prove inducement the insurer or reinsurer must show that the non-disclosure or misrepresentation was an effective cause of his entering into the contract on the terms on which he did. He must therefore show at least that, but for the relevant non-disclosure or misrepresentation, he would not have entered into the contract on those terms. On the other hand, he does not have to show that it was the sole effective cause of his doing so.

Second, the contract was obviously concluded before the Insurance Act 2015 (IA) came into force but is highly unlikely that the application of the AA 2015 would have led to a different outcome. The materiality test applicable under the IA 2015 (under s. 7(3) of the IA 2015) is practically the same and there is still a need to prove inducement for actionable non-disclosure under the 2015 Act.

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