Insurance contract

An Insurance contract determines the legal framework under which the features of an insurance policy are enforced. Insurance contracts are designed to meet very specific needs and thus have many features not found in many other types of contracts. Many features are similar across a wide variety of different types of insurance policies.

General Features

The insurance contract is a contract whereby the insurer will pay the insured (the person whom benefits would be paid to, or on the behalf of), if certain defined events occur. Subject to the "fortuity principle", the event must be uncertain. The uncertainty can be either as to when the event will happen (i.e. in a life insurance policy, the time of the insured's death is uncertain) or as to if it will happen at all (i.e. a fire insurance policy).

* Insurance contracts are generally considered contracts of adhesion because the insurer draws up the contract and the insured has little or no ability to make material changes to it. This is interpreted to mean that the insurer bears the burden if there is any ambiguity in any terms of the contract.

* Insurance contracts are aleatory in that the amounts exchanged by the insured and insurer are unequal and depend upon uncertain future events.

* Insurance contracts are unilateral, meaning that only the insurer makes legally enforceable promises in the contract. The insured is not required to pay the premiums, but the insurer is required to pay the benefits under the contract if the insured has paid the premiums and met certain other basic provisions.

* Insurance contracts are governed by the principle of utmost good faith (uberrima fides) which requires both parties of the insurance contact to deal in good faith and in particular it imparts on the insured a duty to disclose all material facts which relate to the risk to be covered. This contrasts with the legal doctrine that covers most other types of contracts, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Parts of an insurance contract

* Definitions - define important terms used in the policy language.
* Insuring Agreement - describes the covered perils, or risks assumed, or nature of coverage, or makes some reference to the contractual agreement between insurer and insured. It summarizes the major promises of the insurance company, as well as stating what is covered.
* Declarations - identifies who is an insured, the insured's address, the insuring company, what risks or property are covered, the policy limits (amount of insurance), any applicable deductibles, the policy period and premium amount.
* Exclusions - take coverage away from the Insuring Agreement by describing property, perils, hazards or losses arising from specific causes which are not covered by the policy.
* Conditions - provisions, rules of conduct, duties and obligations required for coverage. If policy conditions are not met, the insurer can deny the claim.

Life insurance specific features

* Incontestability - in the United States, life insurance contracts may not be contested by the insurer at any point after the contract has been in force for two years. The insurer has the burden to investigate fully anything they wish to make sure the insured is an acceptable risk within those two years. Any material misstatements on the insurance application (which generally forms a part of the contract) cannot be used as a reason for the insurer not to pay the death benefit, as long as it does not constitute fraud on the part of the insured. The insurer's only recourse if there is no fraud is to can adjust the death benefit to correct for the insured's age or sex if they different from what was stated on the application.


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