Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In an insurance repudiation case the Division Bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka*, JJ., held that where the insurance policy expressly defines a term the insurance company cannot rely on Statutory interpretation of the same to repudiate the insurance claim.  

The Court reversed National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’s (NCDRC) judgment by which it had held that the insurance company was justified in repudiating the claim.   

Factual Backdrop  

The appellant had taken Standard Fire and Special Perils Policy from the insurance company in respect of his Engineering Workshop and Plant. The total sum assured was Rs.26,00,00,000 under the policy covering the loss on account of fire, lightning, explosion, riots, strike etc.  

As per the claim made by the appellant, after midnight of 22-03-2010, about 50­60 antisocial people with arms and ammunition entered the factory premises of the appellant and caused substantial damage to the factory, machinery, and other equipment. The mob demanded money and jobs for local people. The appellant contended that the object of the incident was to terrorise the management of the appellant and workers in the factory by forcing them to pay a ransom to the miscreants. 

The appellant lodged a regular claim with the insurance company. The surveyor assessed the loss at Rs.89,43,422 while the appellant claimed that the insurance company was liable to make an interim payment of Rs.1.5 crores.   However, the insurance company repudiated the appellant’s claim relying on the Exclusion Clause of the policy regarding loss or damage caused by the acts of terrorism.  

Findings of NCDRC  

Therefore, the appellant approached NCDRC complaining about deficiency in the service offered by the insurance company. By the impugned judgment and order, the NCDRC held that because of the “Terrorism   Damage   Exclusion   Warranty”; i.e., the Exclusion Clause, the insurance company was justified in repudiating the claim of the appellant. The NCDRC held that the damage caused to the factory and equipment of the appellant was due to an act of terrorism. 

Analysis and Findings  

The Exclusion Clause of the policy defined the act of terrorism as—“the actions can be termed as acts of terrorism provided the same are committed for political, religious, ideological or similar purposes.   The words ‘similar purposes’ will have to be construed ejusdem generis.” 

Noticeably, the repudiation of the policy was based on the Preliminary Survey Report, Investigation Report, and the Final Survey Report.   However, the Court noted that the Survey Reports could not throw any light on the question whether there was an act of terrorism, the Investigation Report did not conclusively prove that the persons involved in the incident belonged to Maoist or similar groups. Similarly, the FIR and Closure Report did not refer to acts of terrorism as defined under the Exclusion Clause, rather it showed that the police had registered a case against 105 miscreants who could not be traced. 

Therefore, the Court held that the insurance company had not discharged the burden of bringing the case within the four corners of the Exclusion Clause.  

The insurance company had argued that since the police had invoked Section 17 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1908 against the miscreants for unlawful association, the very fact that the provisions of the Amendment Act of 1908 had been applied showed that the loss caused to the appellant was due to a terrorist act. The Court, rejecting the contention of the insurance company held, 

“When the policy itself defines the acts of terrorism in the Exclusion Clause, the terms of the policy being a concluded contract will govern the rights and liabilities of the parties.  Therefore, the parties cannot rely upon the definitions of ‘terrorism’ in various penal statutes since the Exclusion Clause contains an exhaustive definition of acts of terrorism.” 

Conclusion 

Thus, the Court concluded that the NCDRC had committed an error by applying the Exclusion Clause. The policy specifically covered the damage caused by riots or violent means. Hence, the Court held that the decision to repudiate the policy could not be sustained.  

Resultantly, the impugned order was set aside. However, noting that adjudication would have to be made on the quantum of the amount payable to the appellant after appreciating the evidence on record, including the valuation reports, the Court remanded the matter to the NCDRC for reconsideration. Further, relying on the expected damage estimated by the insurance company’s valuer, the Court directed the insurance company to deposit a sum of Rs.89,00,000 with the NCDRC with liberty to the appellant to make an application for withdrawal. 

[Narsingh Ispat Ltd. v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 535, decided on 02-05-2022] 


*Judgment by: Justice Abhay S. Oka 


Appearance by:  

For the Appellant: Santosh Kumar, Advocate  

For the Insurance company: Santosh Paul, Senior Advocate  


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together  

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge Bench comprising Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat*, Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha, JJ., reversed NCDRC’s findings where it had relied on third-party DGFT Guidelines to interpret the date of ‘despatch/shipment’ in the Single Buyer Exposure Policy of the respondent, and thereby deny the appellant’s claim.

The respondent had treated the date on which loading commenced as the date of despatch/shipment’ to reject the appellant’s insurance claim. Deciding the case in favour of the appellant, the Court held,

“The term ‘despatch’ contained in the policy implied ‘completion’ of handing over of possession of the goods to the first carrier (the ship), and not the date on which the loading ‘commenced’ such an interpretation would give rise to an absurdity.”

Factual Matrix

The appellant was an exporter of fish meat and fish oil, who had obtained an insurance cover of ₹ 2.45 crores for foreign buyers’ failure to pay for goods exported from Export Credit Guarantee Corporation Ltd. (ECGC), a government company (under the control of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Union Government). ECGC provides a range of credit risk insurance cover to exporters.

The vessel (Tiger Mango Voyage 62) set sail on 15-12-2012. The Bill of Lading was prepared on 19-12-2012, with a line specifying the date of ‘onboard’ (i.e., date on which vessel commenced loading the goods in question on board) as 13-12-2012. The vessel delivered the goods on 22-01-2013, however, the overseas buyer defaulted on payment which gave rise to the appellant’s claim lodged with ECGC on 14-02-2013.

ECGC rejected the appellant’s claim stating that since the date of ‘despatch/shipment’ was not clearly defined in the policy, reliance was to be placed on the definition contained in the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) Guidelines. As per which, for containerized cargo, the date of ‘despatch/shipment’ was to be interpreted as the date of ‘Onboard Bill of Lading’, which was 13-12-2012, i.e., a day prior to the effective date of the Policy, i.e., 14-12-2012. Therefore, ECGC reasoned that the appellant was not entitled to the claim amount.

The appellant, feeling aggrieved, complained of deficiency of service, and approached the NCDRC for compensation. By the impugned order, NCDRC upheld the rationale of the ECGC and rejected the appellant’s claim.

Analysis and Conclusions

Common Business Sense

Rejecting the interpretation of the terms ‘despatch/shipment’ as construed by ECGC, the Court opined that in event of confusion the disputed terms need to be interpreted in a common business sense. The Court stated,

“The date of loading goods onto the vessel, which commenced one day prior to the effective date of the policy, is not as significant as the date on which the foreign buyer failed to pay for the goods exported, which was well within the coverage period of the Policy.”

Reliance was placed by the Court on Peacock Plywood (P) Ltd. v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., (2006) 12 SCC 673, to hold that while interpreting insurance contracts, the risks sought to be covered must also be kept in mind. Further, the Court opined that the date of loading the goods onto the vessel was immaterial to the purpose for which the policy was taken by the appellant. The Court noted,

“A plain reading of the policy in question demonstrates that it was taken to protect against failure of the foreign buyer in paying the Indian exporter for goods exported. It was not a policy taken to cover in-transit insurance, and the cause of action triggering the claim arose much later, i.e., on 14.02.2013, well within the coverage of the policy.”

Interpretation of Despatch/Shipment

The Court opined that on harmoniously construing the documents of the policy, it is, in fact, the date on the Bill of Lading, and not the Mate’s Receipt/date of shipment which ought to be considered as the date of ‘despatch/shipment’, for the Bill of Lading is the legal document conferring title and possession of the goods to the carrier. Therefore, the Court held that reliance on the DGFT Guidelines to disallow the claim of the appellant was not good in law.

Further, the Court observed that even if the third-party DGFT Guidelines were to be applied, it would not favour the ECGC, as a plain reading of provision 9.12 of the guidelines shows that the date on the Bill of Lading has to be considered as the date of despatch/shipment.

Conclusion

In the backdrop of above, the impugned order of the NCDRC was set aside; the appellant’s complaint was consequently allowed. ECGC was directed to pay the claim amount of Rs. 1,96,38,400/- crores to the appellant, with interest at the rate of 9% p.a.

[Haris Marine Products v. Export Credit Guarantee Corpn. Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 509, decided on 25-04-2022]


*Judgment by: Justice S. Ravindra Bhat


Appearance by:

For the Appellant: Ms Anjana Prakash, Senior Advocate

For the ECGC: Mr Rajnish Kumar Jha, Advocate


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together