What Is Indemnity Insurance?

Everybody has monthly bills to pay, but nobody likes having to find the money to cover unexpected financial obligations or liabilities. In fact, people and businesses go to great lengths to avoid such unexpected financial losses. Indemnity insurance is one of the methods available to protect yourself.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

In exchange for the premiums you pay, an indemnity insurance policy compensates you for certain types of future losses you may experience.

Basics of Indemnity Insurance

When you purchase an indemnity plan, you are contracting with an insurance company to protect, or indemnify, you. That means in exchange for your insurance premiums, the company agrees to pay for certain losses you may suffer in the future. Essentially, the company agrees to make you financially whole in the event of an unexpected loss.

The obvious advantage of having an indemnity policy is that a person is insulated against a specific type of financial loss. For a known sum – the cost of the insurance premiums – you can protect yourself from unknown losses. This is useful to both individuals and businesses that need to plan fixed expenses as part of a budget.

Legal Concept of Indemnity

Indemnity is a legal concept. Under the law, it means that a person or entity compensates another person or entity for part or all of a loss or financial obligation. If a company contracts to indemnify someone against future financial losses, that agreement is called an indemnity contract.

Here are a few examples of indemnity contracts:

  • Automobile indemnity coverage is part of most standard automobile insurance policies. It means that the company agrees to cover any losses, including property damage, that the insured suffers from a vehicle accident.
  • Contractor indemnity is when a subcontractor works with a contractor, and the contractor is on the hook to the property owner for financial damage caused by the subcontractor's faulty work. If the subcontractor agrees to reimburse the contractor for any losses he causes, this is known as an indemnity agreement.

Principle of Indemnity

Under the principle of indemnity, the person to be indemnified receives back only enough money to make her whole. She can never profit from an indemnity contract or receive a windfall of cash that is not part of the specific debt or liability she is covered for. For example, if the insured damages her car in an accident, under an automobile indemnity policy she can recover up to 100 percent of the amount of the damage suffered, but she cannot recover more than is necessary to restore her to the same financial position she enjoyed before the accident.

Exceptions to Principle of Indemnity

Modern laws have created a number of exceptions to the general principle of indemnity. In these exceptions, the company generally agrees to pay a sum certain in the event a specified loss occurs. For example, in a personal accident and life insurance policy, the insurer may agree to pay the policy amount if the insured dies in a covered accident. The company does not address the question of restoration or profit.

Likewise, sometimes ship owners often contract with marine insurance companies to cover a total loss of the ship and/or its cargo at a fixed sum, such as one million dollars. The company then does not assess the actual amount of loss, but simply pays the contracted amount if the ship is lost.

References

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.