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BOOK THE FOURTH.

Of Infurance against Fire.

CHAP. I.

Preliminary Obfervations.

Y this contract the infurer, in confideration of a certain premium received by him, either in a grofs fum, or by annual payments, undertakes to indemnify the infured against all lofs or damage which he may sustain in his houses or other buildings, goods and merchandize, by fire, during a limited period of time.

I have not been able to afcertain the period of the introduction of insurance against fire into this country. But it has certainly been in use here confiderably more than a century. Of late years, notwithstanding a very heavy ftamp duty imposed on these insurances, they have been brought into very general, I might almost have said univerfal, use, in this country; particularly in London and other cities and large towns.

I do not find, however, that this fpecies of infurance is much in use in other countries. It was not till the year 1754 that it came into ufe at Paris. In that year, one of the companies instituted there for marine infurances, obtained from the government permiffion to make insurances against fire. But they have never, as Pothier informs us, become general even at Paris. (a) In Holland, though infurance against fire is not altogether unknown, few people feek its protection; perhaps because the people of that

(a) Vid. Pothier, tit. des affurances, n. 3.

country

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Whether in a

more

to it.

country can rely fo much on their own caution, that they think it unneceffary to pay for any greater fecurity. Indeed I have heard it confidently afferted, by perfons well acquainted with the cities both of London and Amferdam, that after making all fair allowances, there is, upon an average, more property destroyed by fire in the former in one year, than in the latter in seven.

It cannot be denied that this fpecies of infurance affords national point great comfort to individuals, and often preferves whole hurtful families from poverty and ruin. And yet it has been than beneficial. much doubted, by wife and intelligent perfons, whethThe objection er, in a general and national point of view, the benefits resulting from it are not more than counterbalanced by the mifchiefs it occafions. Not to mention the careleffnefs and inattention which fecurity naturally creates ; every person who has any concern in any of the fire offices, or who has attended the courts of Weftminfter for any length of time, muft own, that infurance has been the original caufe of many fires in London, with all their train of mischievous confequences.

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On the other hand, the advocates for this fpecies of infurance, though they admit it to have been fometimes the cause of intentional fires; yet they infift, that, even as a national concern, the benefits vaftly outweigh the mifchiefs which proceed from it. And when we recollect the precautions used by the different infurance companies, to prevent the fpreading of fires, by providing a number of fire engines, which are kept in conftant repair, and fit for immediate ufe, not only in all parts of the metropolis, but in every other confiderable town in the kingdom;-by keeping in conftant pay, a number of engineers and fire-men, expert in extinguishing fires, and porters for the removal of goods;-by employing a number of thefe in patrolling the streets at all hours of the night, in conftant readiness to fly to the fpot from whence any alarm of fire may proceed: When we recollect that the courage, promptitude, and addrefs of thefe people often ftop the progrefs of the most dangerous fires, and thereby rescue many valuable lives, and immenfe property

from

from destruction :-When these benefits, I fay, are fairly confidered, it is impoffible to deny that they greatly outweigh all the disadvantages that can be put in the oppofite fcale.

feveral fire infurance companies in

A confiderable number of companies have been estab- The lifhed in London and other parts of the kingdom for infurances against fire. Of these fome are called Contribu- London. tion Societies, in which every perfon infured becomes a member or proprietor, participating in profit and lofs. Such are the Hand in Hand, and the Weftminfler fire-offices, for the infurance of houfes and other buildings; and the Union fire-office, for infurance of goods. The other companies infure both houfes and goods, at their own risk. Of these the principal are the London and Royal Exchange affurance corporations, the Sun, the Phenix, and the British fire-offices.

As to the duties, to which this contract is liable, the stat. 37 G. III. c. 90, § 23, repeals all the former ftamp duties imposed on policies of insurance against fire; and, (by sect. 24,) imposes on every policy, in lieu thereof, a new duty of three fillings where the fum insured is under 10001. and of fix fbillings where the fum insured amounts to 1000 1. or upwards.

And, by the fame act (fect. 19,) the yearly fum of fixpence, over and above the yearly fum of one filling and fixpence, already imposed for every 100 l. and fo in proportion for any lefs fum infured, is laid on every policy for infuring houses, furniture, goods, wares, and merchandize, or other property, from loss by fire.

Policies against fire are fubject to a flamp of 35. under 1000 l. and of 6s. if wards.

if

1000 1. or up

Alfo to a yearly duty of 28 per

cent, on the fum infured.

CHAP.

Whether an in

furance against

fire without intereft be void at common law.

Since the ftat. 14 G. Il c. 48, it would be clearly void.

CHA P. II.

Of the Intereft of the Infured.

I DO not find that it has ever been a practice to make insurances against fire, avowedly without intereft. The effect of fuch insurance would, I think, afford a powerful argument against the legality of any insurance without intereft, at common law. If a wager infurance be good, at common law, I do not know that it must neceffarily affume the form of any particular species of infurance: But if the question, whether a wager policy be a legal contract at common law, were to arife in the cafe of an insurance against fire, it is impoffible to fuppofe that the judges could ever be prevailed upon to fanction, by their authority, a contract of fo mifchievous a tendency.-Lord Chancellor King, in the cafe of Lynch v. Dalzell, which we fhall presently have occafion to cite at large, fays;—"The party infuring must have a property at the time of the lofs, or he can fuftain no lofs, and confequently can be entitled to no fatisfaction." And Lord Hardwicke, in the case of the Sadler's Company v. Badcock, (a) lays it down as law, that the infured muft have an interest or property at the time of infuring, and at the time the lofs happens. So that, according to these two great authorities, it is clear that an infurance against fire, without intereft, would have been void at common law. But if any doubt remained upon that question, it has been removed by the ftat. 14 G. III. c. 48. That act, though it is entitled, an ac for regulating insurances upon lives, yet, by the enacting claufe, (fect. 1,) (6) it

prohibits

(a) Inf. 700.-(6) Sup. 672.

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can only recover, in cafe of and lofs, to the ex

prohibits all infurances without intereft, « upon any event
or events whatsoever;" (a) and therefore there can be
no doubt but that it extends to insurance against fire;
that the infured, whatever may be the amount of his in-
furance, can only recover to the extent of his interest.
There is no doubt but that infurances against fire are
often made to a large amount upon property of very
fmall value. This can only be done with a fraudulent
view, and a premeditated fire must be the neceffary con-
fequence. Where a lofs has happened, and there is no
colour to fufpect any unfair practice on the part of the
infured, I think the offices ought not to content themselves
with being merely juft: They ought to be generous and
liberal towards a fair fufferer. But where there is any
reasonable ground to fufpect fraud, it is to be hoped
that the managers of no office will, from any falfe notion of
generofity, or any wish to acquire popular favour, so far
forget what they owe to the public, as well as to their
own characters, as to fuffer the claim to be fatisfied,.
without the moft fcrupulous investigation.

a

tent of his in

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eral infurances . on the fame

property, each office muft have

notice of this.

It often happens that no one office will infure to the If there be fev full amount required by a particular perfon, who has large property to infure; and in fuch cafe, the party can only cover his whole interest, by feveral insurances made at different offices. But then it is proper that each office fhould have notice of every infurance thus made on the fame effects; for otherwife great frauds might be practifed by infuring the fame property to its full value, at feveral different offices at the fame time. To guard against such frauds, there is, in the printed proposals of each of the offices, an article which declares that, perfons infuring must give notice of any other infurance made elsewhere upon the fame houfes or goods, that the

fame

(a) The 4th fection provides that it shall not extend to marine infurances, which fhews that it was the intention of the legislature that it fhould extend, according to the above words in the enacting claufe, to every other fpecies of infurance.

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