After spreading from Wuhan to Switzerland in less than three months, the COVID-19 crisis is creating major challenges for Swiss insurers, particularly with regard to whether insurance coverage for the effects of an epidemic also apply to a pandemic. The Swiss Ombudsman of Private Insurance recently commissioned Law Professor Dr Walter Fellmann to issue a legal opinion regarding selected epidemic insurance wordings. This article discusses the conclusions of Fellmann's legal opinion.
The Federal Supreme Court recently dealt with the question of whether the interest payment obligation in loan agreements can be reversed due to the introduction of negative interest. For the first time the court has held that, unless the parties have agreed otherwise, the obligation to pay interest under a loan agreement cannot be shifted to the lender.
The Federal Supreme Court recently addressed the relationship between a contractual forfeiture clause under Article 46(2) of the Federal Insurance Contract Act and the statutory limitation period for insurance claims. Among other things, this decision reconfirms previous case law, according to which forfeiture clauses such as the one at issue are customary in the insurance industry. It also confirms that a contraction forfeiture clause may exist alongside the statutory limitation period.
The Insurance Supervision Act regulates the federal supervision of insurers and insurance intermediaries in Switzerland. Since its enactment in 2006, it has been subject to only selective amendments. However, developments in recent years have made partial revisions to the act necessary. Therefore, the Federal Council recently issued a consultation draft and invited interested parties to submit their comments.
The Federal Supreme Court recently considered – for the first time – whether board members' rights to information, inspection and insight can also be asserted on an appeal basis. The court also commented on the type of procedure applicable in such cases. This decision should be taken into account by board members who lack evidence or knowledge of important or necessary information, particularly if it relates to the organisation of or disputed relationships within the board of directors.
Under the Insurance Contract Act, insurers are not bound by a contract if, for deception purposes, the insured party incorrectly notifies or conceals facts from the insurer which would exclude or reduce the insurer's obligation to provide indemnification. Insurers can therefore refuse payment and withdraw from such contracts. The Federal Supreme Court recently confirmed this to be true even if an insured party does not make false statements directly to the insurer, but rather to a medical doctor who confirms their inability to work.
The Supreme Court recently abandoned its long-standing practice of restricting recourse under the Gini/Durlemann doctrine, which was first adopted in 1954. The court held that any non-contractual liability falls within the meaning of 'prohibited act', including all facts standardised as hazardous or simple causal liability. Private insurers must therefore be treated the same as social insurance carriers with respect to the causally liable party that causes an accident.
The Supreme Court recently dealt with the scope of a full and final settlement clause in an insurance matter. The decision confirms the rules for interpreting settlement agreements in insurance matters and emphasises the importance of carefully drafting the wording of such agreements if they are intended to be full and final settlement agreements of certain insurance claims.
Shareholders of closely held companies often mutually agree on additional contractual rights and duties. However, the company itself cannot be a contract party to a separate shareholders' agreement. Apart from that legal restriction, such shareholders' agreements usually benefit from the contractual freedom of the parties. A recent Federal Court decision confirmed that such agreements may be recharacterised as abusive or contrary to the principle of good faith.
The European Court of Human Rights recently concluded that Switzerland violated Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention due to surveillance of an insured party. The case brings uncertainty regarding the extent of observation under Swiss law. Article 8 guarantees the fundamental right to respect private and family life. In its statement, the court held that Swiss federal law offers no precise legal basis for photo and video surveillance of insured parties.
In the context of loss of earnings insurance, the Federal Supreme Court recently had to decide whether sickness or the inability to work due to the respective sickness constitutes an insured event and therefore triggers the insurer's duty to provide insurance benefits. The court abandoned its existing case law in which it had appraised the sickness as a primary event for the determination of when the insured event had occurred.
A recent Zug Cantonal Court decision sheds light on the way that Swiss company articles of association must be interpreted under Swiss company law in cases in which they are not only applicable internally among a few shareholders, but also have an effect on third parties. The decision confirms that the observation of merely the letter and not the spirit of company articles by a company board or majority company shareholders in a general meeting can even amount to an abuse of law.
The Federal Supreme Court recently ruled that the regulation in the Freedom of Movement Agreement concerning the liability of new daily benefits insurance for ongoing claims that started before the conclusion of an insurance contract under a previous insurance contract does not breach the prohibition of retroactive coverage according to Article 9 of the Insurance Contract Act.
In 2013 the Federal Parliament rejected a bill for a total revision of the Federal Act on Insurance Contracts, with an order to the Federal Council to elaborate a partial revision on selected subjects. In its second attempt to adapt the law to existing standards and policyholders' need for reasonable and feasible insurance protection, the Federal Council drafted an amended bill and recently initiated consultation proceedings on the proposals.
A recent Swiss Federal Court decision clarified the circumstances under which the personal liability of board members or managers of a Swiss company for their business decisions and omissions can be reduced by applying the so-called 'business judgement' rule or, if the related prerequisites are not met in a particular case, based on other grounds.
The Federal Court has ruled that no or insufficient disclosure of indicating circumstances by an insured party falls under Article 6 of the Insurance Contract Act if this information was relevant in determining the probability of the risk which later was realised and caused damage. Further, the court held that the insurer is freed from its contractual payment obligation if it terminated the insurance contract within the required time.
The Federal Supreme Court recently clarified how to deal with defects in company organisation caused by deadlock between two equal shareholders. For the first time the court has confirmed that courts are authorised to order a share auction in such cases. However, it is strongly recommended that such a harsh outcome be avoided by installing suitable measures to solve conflicts from the outset.
The Federal Supreme Court recently rendered a rare judgment on the temporal scope of liability policies and the claims-made principle. Although it may lead to a broader scope of covered claims, the decision should be seen in a positive light, as it brings additional clarity with regard to the interpretation of claims-made clauses in insurance policies.
The need for further revision to the Insurance Supervisory Law has been revealed through the introduction of risk-based solvency measuring methods, including the Swiss Solvency Test. The establishment of the test as the sole instrument for testing solvency and a focus on Solvency II will result in harmonisation, while revisions to the Insurance Supervisory Ordinance should see increased reporting efforts.
On July 1 2015 a new regime for bearer shares in Swiss companies was enacted, introducing new legal obligations for company boards and shareholders and severe penalties for cases of non-compliance. To achieve transparency the Code of Obligations established a general duty for all owners of bearer shares in non-listed Swiss companies to disclose their ownership, identity and address to the company within one month of their acquisition.