Third party claims against insurers

The venerable Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 1930 was meant to be suppressed no less than six years ago and supplanted  by its namesake, the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010. Unfortunately, owing to a drafting glitch connected with insolvency law, the 2010 Act could not be brought into force; and so we still have the 1930 Act. But not for much longer. The glitch has now been cured by amendments brought in under the 2015 Insurance Act, and the shiny new 2010 Act comes into force on 1 August this year. A few changes (apart from length: the old Act made do with 5 sections, whereas the new model has 21 and 4 schedules, but that’s life). One is the obviation of the need to raise long-defunct companies from the dead, so as to be able technically to sue the corporate zombie and get judgment against it, so as to be able then to say that it could sue the insurer. Another is the abolition of “pay-to-be-paid”, except in the case of non-personal-injury marine insurance claims; yet another, the curtailment of the right of the insurer to rely on lack of notification by its own insured, provided such notification is given by the claimant.

The new Act makes it clear that it applies to insurance and not to reinsurance.

Details in brief from Clyde & Co’s ever-useful updating service.

The LOGIC of freedom of contract

A ringing vindication of freedom of contract, and of grown-up contract interpretation, from the English Court of Appeal today in Transocean v Providence.

Transocean provided a drilling rig to Providence to explore for oil off the shores of the Emerald Isle. The contract was a bespoke version of the LOGIC offshore construction, etc contract.  Problems arose when operations had to stop for 4 weeks owing to problems with Transocean’s rig, which were found to be due to Transocean’s breach of contract. Providence sued for “spread costs” (accountant-speak for capital equipment left idle) during that time. Transocean countered with a reference to Clause 20, part of a complex and comprehensive knock-for-knock arrangement:

“20. CONSEQUENTIAL LOSS. For the purposes of this Clause 20 the expression “Consequential Loss” shall mean:

(i) any indirect or consequential loss or damages under English law, and/or

(ii) to the extent not covered by (i) above, loss or deferment of production, loss of product, loss of use (including, without limitation, loss of use or the cost of use of property, equipment, materials and services including without limitation, those provided by contractors or subcontractors of every tier or by third parties), loss of business and business interruption, loss of revenue (which for the avoidance of doubt shall not include payments due to CONTRACTOR by way of remuneration under this CONTRACT), loss of profit or anticipated profit, loss and/or deferral of drilling rights and/or loss, restriction or forfeiture of licence, concession or field interests whether or not such losses were foreseeable at the time of entering into the CONTRACT and, in respect of paragraph (ii) only, whether the same are direct or indirect. The expression “Consequential Loss” shall not include CONTRACTOR’S losses arising in connection with (1) failure by COMPANY to provide the letter of credit as required by Clause 3.13 of Section III or resulting termination of this CONTRACT or (2) any termination of this CONTRACT by reason of COMPANY’S repudiatory breach.

Subject to and without affecting the provisions of this CONTRACT regarding (a) the payment rights and obligations of the parties or (b) the risk of loss, or (c) release and indemnity rights and obligations of the parties but notwithstanding any other provision of the CONTRACT to the contrary the COMPANY shall save, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the CONTRACTOR GROUP from the COMPANY GROUP’S own consequential loss and the CONTRACTOR shall save, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the COMPANY GROUP from the CONTRACTOR GROUP’S own consequential loss.”

This seemed comprehensive enough, but Providence still thought it worth arguing the toss. They argued that the clause only covered claims for replacement costs; that it should be aggressively construed contra proferentem; that it was apt to reduce Transocean’s obligations to nil; and that as such the courts should simply disregard it (!).

The judge at first instance accepted some of these arguments and rejected Transocean’s defence. Moore-Bick LJ, who gave the only judgment in the CA, was having none of it. Read in any sensible way the clause covered the loss; contra proferentem was inappropriate in a case of this sort between sophisticated grown-up contractors; and the freedom of parties in situations like this to make unreasonable agreements needed to be preserved.

This is, if one may say so, the sort of entirely well-reasoned and sound decision which gives us continuing confidence in English law and jurisdiction as the best system to adopt if  businessmen want to know where they stand.

See Transocean Drilling v Providence Resources [2016] EWCA Civ 372, available on BAILII.

Fierce exemption clause? That’s tough.

A satisfyingly muscular exemption clause decision from Stuart-Smith J yesterday in Persimmon Homes Ltd & Ors v Ove Arup & Partners Ltd & Anor [2015] EWHC 3573 (TCC) (on BAILII). Arup advised a consortium of capitalists which wanted to bid for derelict land at Barry Docks in Cardiff (not a million miles from where this blog is based). The consortium bought the site and then, having had a nasty contamination surprise when the land turned out to be replete with asbestos, sued Arup for negligence in failing to spot it. Arup told them to go fish, or at least limit their claim, relying on a clause saying: “The Consultant’s aggregate liability under this Agreement whether in contract, tort (including negligence), for breach of statutory duty or otherwise (other than for death or personal injury caused by the Consultant’s negligence) shall be limited to £12,000,000.00 (twelve million pounds) with the liability for pollution and contamination limited to £5,000,000.00 (five million pounds) in the aggregate. Liability for any claim in relation to asbestos is excluded.”

Stuart-Smith J was rightly impatient of the consortium’s attempts to slide out of this clause by interpreting it to death. Such clauses, he said, should be interpreted like any other contractual term: there was no reason not to take this one au pied de la lettre and hold that, as any businessman would have thought who hadn’t been brought up with academic contract lawyers snuffling round his heels, it protected Arup. Interestingly, he suggested that the third “rule” in Canada Steamship (the one about clauses apt to cover negligence not applying to it when there was a conceivable alternative cause of action to tie them to) need not be taken terribly seriously these days, noting that Lord Hope in Geys v Société Générale [2013] 1 AC 523 had (probably deliberately) omitted it in his discussion.

AT