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Insurable Interest in Property

15 January, 2016 - 09:34

To purchase property insurance, the would-be insured must have aninsurable interest in the property. Insurable interest is a real and substantial interest in specific property such that a loss to the insured would ensue if the property were damaged. You could not, for instance, take out an insurance policy on a motel down the block with which you have no connection. If a fire destroyed it, you would suffer no economic loss. But if you helped finance the motel and had an investment interest in it, you would be permitted to place an insurance policy on it. This requirement of an insurable interest stems from the public policy against wagering. If you could insure anything, you would in effect be betting on an accident.

To insure property, therefore, you must have a legal interest and run the risk of a pecuniary loss. Any legal interest is sufficient: a contractual right to purchase, for instance, or the right of possession (a bailee may insure). This insurable interest must exist both at the time you take out the policy and at the time the loss occurs. Moreover, coverage is limited to the extent of the interest. As a mortgagee, you could ensure only for the amount still due.

Prior to the financial meltdown of 2008, many investment banks took insurance against possible losses from collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and other financial products based on subprime loans. The principal insurer was American International Group, Inc. (AIG), which needed a US government bailout when the risks covered by AIG turned out to be riskier than AIG’s models had projected.