Recovery by underwriters: an unconfident sequel to the Atlantik Confidence debacle.

It might look rather churlish for an insurer in paying out on a claim to talk in the same breath about what happens if it should later decide that it wants its money back. Nevertheless it was failure to do this that landed a group of marine underwriters in expensive satellite litigation in Aspen Underwriting Ltd & Ors v Kairos Shipping Ltd & Ors [2017] EWHC 1904 (Comm).

The background to all this was last year’s decision in Kairos Shipping v Enka & Co LLC [2016] EWHC 2412 (Admlty) (noted here for the benefit of our readers), where following the loss of the 27,000 dwt bulker Atlantik Confidence in the Middle East, cargo underwriters successfully broke limitation on the basis that the sinking was a put-up job. The vessel’s hull underwriters, having previously paid out on the orders of her owners’ bank under an insurance assignment provision, now sued the bank to recover their money. The bank, based in the Netherlands, tried to put a spanner in the works by denying the jurisdiction of the English courts under Art.4 of Brussels I Recast, and very nearly succeeded.

The agreement under which the underwriters settled the payout contained an English jurisdiction clause. However it had been signed by the underwriters and the owners, and not by the bank, which had merely given consent for any monies to be paid out to a third party rather than themselves (they were actually paid to the brokers).  Teare J was not prepared to infer that the owners had signed for the bank as principals, or that the bank by agreeing to payment to a third party (the brokers) had demanded payment so as to bring themselves within the doctrine of benefit and burden. The underwriters only won, by the skin of their teeth (and the skill of IISTL stalwart Peter Macdonald-Eggers QC), because of a just plausible alternative argument that some kind of tort of misrepresentation had been committed by or on behalf of  the bank which had had its effects in England, thus enabling the underwriters to invoke Art.7(2) of Brussels I.

Moral (it would seem): all policies should contain a term, rigorously enforced, stating that no monies will be paid out save against a signed receipt specifically submitting to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts in respect of any subsequent dispute respecting the payment.

Hopeful law professors will of course look forward to a decision on the substantive point of recovery (which raises interesting issues of tort law, not to mention restitution should the entire litigation take place here with the agreement of the bank). But one suspects they will do so in vain. It seems likely that this case, like so many others, will end up in the great mass of claims “settled on undisclosed terms.”

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