In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parliament recently passed an act whereby insurers, under certain circumstances, despite non-payment of an insurance premium, are temporarily prohibited from either terminating the insurance contract or refusing cover. Further, the act grants consumers and micro-enterprises a temporary right to refuse performance in the context of contracts for essential continuing obligations, including insurance contracts.
One of the biggest risks for companies is business interruption. Companies can insure this risk under so-called 'business interruption' insurance policies; however, these policies generally provide cover only if the business interruption is the result of an insured property loss. The situation is completely different with so-called 'business shutdown' insurance, which is – at least so far – uncommon.
In 2019 the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection presented its draft bill for a new and independent law on corporate penalties. Pursuant to the draft bill, considerable fines may be imposed not only on the persons involved in wrongdoing, but also on companies. This will significantly affect insurance cover, especially in the areas of professional indemnity and directors' and officers' insurance.
In a recent decision, the Federal Court of Justice once again stressed the difficulties in and the importance of obtaining a precise legal subsumption of the established facts where the pre-contractual duty of disclosure is concerned. The decision is relevant for all insurance contracts that fall under the Insurance Contract Act, although special regulations exist.
The Hamburg Court of Appeal has expressly discarded an earlier obiter dictum, ruling that a representative action (ie, an authority to pursue the claim of another in one's own name) by an insurance agent on behalf of the insurer stops time only if the agent disclosed its authority and the name of the represented insurer when filing the action. A later disclosure of the authority – which existed at the time of lodging the claim – in court has no retroactive effect and does not interrupt the limitation period.
A recent Hamm Higher Regional Court decision concerning insurers' duty of advice continues the previous case law in respect of partly favourable and partly unfavourable new conditions or conditions that are merely more favourable for the policyholder. The case highlights the question of whether insurers have a duty to advise assureds of amendments made to the general terms and conditions in their insurance policies, particularly with regard to linguistic amendments.
The Federal Court of Justice recently ruled on the appropriate jurisdiction regarding a head carrier's insurer's direct claim against subcarriers' liability insurers. The first and second instances had affirmed their international jurisdiction and admitted the direct claim against the liability insurer on the basis of Article 31(1)(1)(b) of the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. The Federal Court of Justice confirmed this approach.
The Bremen Court of Appeal recently held that the proximate cause of a vessel's grounding after its main engine had cut out was the bad weather, rather than the engine problem. Further, the insurer's right to request information from the assured was limited to information relating to the proximate cause and did not extend to remote causes. This decision is highly questionable in respect of both causation and insurers' right to information.
The Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court has ruled on the insurance law aspects of recourse claims against subcarriers. This decision demonstrates that an insured's entitlement to claim compensation can be safeguarded if the insurer supplies a written declaration authorising the insured to continue the recourse proceedings, irrespective of whether the insurer has compensated the insured.
German law provides several circumstances in which the limitation period in an insurance coverage dispute may be suspended, subject to the case facts. However, to avoid the risk of an insurance claim becoming time barred, assureds should pursue claims diligently. A recent case before the Dresden Higher Regional Court is a useful reminder that suspending limitation periods due to negotiations requires that the insurer is actively involved in the matter.
Motor vehicle liability insurance is mandatory for vehicles admitted to travel on public roads in Germany (the same applies to non-motorised trailers and semi-trailers) and covers damages caused by the policyholder to third parties or their vehicles. However, a Federal Court of Justice decision emphasises that subsidiary clauses in mandatory insurance contracts which limit liability are void unless such exemptions are legally permitted or agreed on by the insurers.
In a notable hull insurance case, the Celle Court of Appeal dismissed an action brought by an assured pleasure yacht owner who had been sailing on the Baltic Sea and ran aground. The case facts suggest that assureds are often unaware of the impact that outdated chart materials can have on hull insurance and liability cover.
The controversial prohibition on passing on commission forbids brokers and insurers from granting or promising special remuneration to policyholders, insured persons or beneficiaries under an insurance contract. According to the legislature, the prohibition was upheld during the implementation of the EU Insurance Distribution Directive into national law over the past three years. However, whether reinsurance remains excluded from the prohibition is unclear.