The insurance contract is a contract whereby the insurer will pay the insured (the person whom benefits would be paid to, or on the behalf of), if certain defined events occur. Subject to the "fortuity principle", the event must be uncertain. The uncertainty can be either as to when the event will happen (i.e. in a life insurance policy, the time of the insured's death is uncertain) or as to if it will happen at all (i.e. a fire insurance policy).
- Insurance contracts are generally considered contracts of adhesion because the insurer draws up the contract and the insured has little or no ability to make material changes to it. This is interpreted to mean that the insurer bears the burden if there is any ambiguity in any terms of the contract.
- Insurance contracts are aleatory in that the amounts exchanged by the insured and insurer are unequal and depend upon uncertain future events.
- Insurance contracts are unilateral, meaning that only the insurer makes legally enforceable promises in the contract. The insured is not required to pay the premiums, but the insurer is required to pay the benefits under the contract if the insured has paid the premiums and met certain other basic provisions.
- Insurance contracts are governed by the principle of utmost good faith which requires both parties of the insurance contact to deal in good faith and in particular it imparts on the insured a duty to disclose all material facts which relate to the risk to be covered. This contrasts with the legal doctrine that covers most other types of contracts, caveat emptor.
Parts of an insurance contract
- Definitions - define important terms used in the policy language.
- Insuring Agreement - describes the covered perils, or risks assumed, or nature of coverage, or makes some reference to the contractual agreement between insurer and insured. It summarizes the major promises of the insurance company, as well as stating what is covered.
- Declarations - identifies who is an insured, the insured's address, the insuring company, what risks or property are covered, the policy limits or amount of insurance, any applicable deductibles, the policy period and premium amount.
- Exclusions - take coverage away from the Insuring Agreement by describing property, perils, hazards or losses arising from specific causes which are not covered by the policy.
- Conditions - provisions, rules of conduct, duties and obligations required for coverage. If policy conditions are not met, the insurer can deny the claim.