Contracts of Insurance I

Contracts of insurance are governed by the principle of utmost good faith. The duty of mutual fair dealing requires all parties to a contract to be fair and open with each other to create and maintain trust between them. In a contract of insurance, the insured can be expected to have information of which she/he has knowledge. This justifies a duty of good faith, leading to a positive duty of disclosure. The duty of disclosure in insurance contracts was established in a King’s Bench Decision in Carter v. Boehm, (1766) 3 Burr 1905 where Lord Mansfield held thus:

“Insurance is a contract upon speculation. The special facts, upon which the contingent chance is to be computed, lie most commonly in the knowledge of the insured only; the under-writer trusts to his representation, and proceeds upon confidence that he does not keep back any circumstance in his knowledge, to mislead the under-writer into a belief that the circumstance does not exist, and to induce him to estimate the risque, as if it did not exist.”

It is standard practice for the insurer to set out in the application a series of specific questions regarding the applicant’s health history and other matters relevant to insurability. The object of the proposal form is to gather information about a potential client, allowing the insurer to get all information which is material to the insurer to know in order to assess the risk and fix the premium for each potential client. Proposal forms are a significant part of the disclosure procedure and warrant accuracy of statements. Utmost care must be exercised in filling the proposal form. In a proposal form the applicant declares that she/he warrants truth. The contractual duty so imposed is such that any suppression, untruth or inaccuracy in the statement in the proposal form will be considered as a breach of the duty of good faith and will render the policy voidable by the insurer. The system of adequate disclosure helps buyers and sellers of insurance policies to meet at a common point and narrow down the gap of information asymmetries. This allows the parties to serve their interests better and understand the true extent of the contractual agreement.

The finding of a material misrepresentation or concealment in insurance has a significant effect upon both the insured and the insurer in the event of a dispute. The fact it would influence the decision of a prudent insurer in deciding as to whether or not to accept a risk is a material fact. As this Court held in Satwant Kaur, (2009) 8 SCC 316
 there is a clear presumption that any information sought for in the proposal form is material for the purpose of entering into a contract of insurance. Each representation or statement may be material to the risk.”

Hon’ble Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Reliance Life Insurance Co Ltd. v. Rekhaben Nareshbhai Rathod, [Civil Appeal No. 4261 of 2019].