Tag Archive for: election

If your insurer has suggested it will settle your claim by cash payment, can it then do something different, such as carrying out an actual repair/rebuild or vice versa?

This issue was considered in the Canterbury earthquake related case of Domenico Trustee Limited v Tower Insurance Limited (and on appeal in the Court of Appeal subsequently).  The homeowner argued that the insurer (Tower) had elected to settle in cash and could not go back on that position Tower argued that it had not made a binding choice.

In the High Court, the Court largely agreed with Tower, holding that Tower had not, by what it had said or done, made a definite choice (election) to either make payment or rebuild.  It found however that, due to unreasonable delay, Tower was deemed to have chosen to settle by paying the homeowner cash at “market value”.  However, should the homeowner rebuild or purchase another home, Tower would then be required to also cover those additional costs.

The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeal who agreed with the High Court that Tower had not made an unequivocal choice to either made payment or rebuild.  However, the Court of Appeal referred the case back to the High Court for a rehearing on the issue on whether Tower had unreasonably delayed in making a decision and, if so, whether the Court could therefore make one for it.


The homeowner owned a house which was deemed a “rebuild” as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes. The house was insured for replacement value by Tower under a “Provider House Policy Maxi Protection” policy.

In the course of settlement discussions, Tower provided the homeowner with a “settlement pack” which included FAQ addressing a settlement option outside of the policy, namely to cash settle on the basis of the “full rebuild cost” as opposed to “market value” (a lesser amount).  Payment at “market value” was the only cash settlement option under the policy and applied until the homeowner actually rebuilt or replaced the damaged home.

There were also separate emails and discussions between Tower and the homeowner offering the homeowner the same “outside the policy” option (a cash payment based on the estimated rebuild cost of the home).

The homeowner and Tower could not reach agreement on the rebuild cost.  The homeowner then filed legal proceedings seeking that Tower be ordered to cash settle on the basis of an agreed rebuild amount without the homeowner being required to rebuild.

The Decision

  • The High Court held that Tower had not made a binding choice to cash settle at “rebuild” value.  This was on that basis that all discussions between the parties had been qualified by Tower and indicated that Tower had not made a final decision but instead remained willing to settle the homeowner’s claim by any of the options under the policy.  In addition, that option was not contained in the policy and was therefore not available for Tower to actually elect.
  • The Court of Appeal agreed, holding that the offers to settle in cash were just that, offers, and no more.  Tower’s actions demonstrated that it was pursuing its preference for a cash settlement while reserving the option to carry out the reinstatement works itself.  All communications show it continued to keep its options open.
  • The High Court indicated that, in certain circumstances, it might be possible to argue that an insurer, by its words and actions, has made a choice to repair/rebuild coupled with a waiver (effectively a “giving up of”) of the requirement that the homeowner actually repair or rebuild.  This would enable the homeowner to receive the full rebuild amount in cash without rebuilding.  In the case however, the homeowner had not sought to rely on this argument so the Court could not make a decision on it.
  • The High Court also held however that, as a result of Tower failing to make a final decision for a substantial period of time, Tower was deemed therefore to have in fact made a choice to settle by paying cash at “market value” (which is less than full replacement value) as a starting position.  However, should the homeowner rebuild or purchase another home, Tower would then be required to also cover those additional costs.  This was on the basis that a party entitled to elect has only a reasonable time in which to do so before the law will make it for that party.  In addition, there is a requirement to settle claims under insurance contracts with reasonable speed.
  • On this point the Court of Appeal disagreed. This was partly on the basis that it was not apparent that previous cases actually supported the idea that the Court could make a decision for an insurer if they had delayed unreasonably in doing so.   However, more significantly, the Court of Appeal decided that the documents filed in Court by the homeowner had not raised this issue before the original hearing.    Consequently, Tower had been disadvantaged by this omission and the case was referred back to the High Court for a rehearing on this issue.  To date the rehearing has not yet been decided.


The case indicates that, as a starting point, in order for your insurer to be bound to a particular method of settlement:

  1. There must have been an unequivocal and unqualified choice communicated to you by the insurer.  This can be either by words or actions;
  2. The insurer must have first been aware of all relevant facts and information so that it is in a position to make an informed choice;
  3. There must be a choice between one of the options in the policy and not some option outside of the policy (i.e. an insurer cannot be held to have made a binding choice in respect of an option not contained in the insurance policy).  In this respect the Court held that the FAQ provided by Tower did not form part of the policy options – it was simply an explanatory document.
  4. A mere offer to settle a claim without more will not ordinarily amount to a binding choice, nor usually will the making of inquiries by the insurer (i.e. looking into a cash settlement), even where it creates expectations for you.


These indications set a reasonably high threshold to cross before an insurer will be found to have irrevocably elected a specific option.  However, if an insurer has unreasonably delayed in making a choice, a choice (in accordance with one of your policy options) may be made for them.  This issue remains to be determined by the Court.

The case also indicates that the issue of whether an election has been made is fundamentally a factual inquiry (i.e. will be influenced by the facts of each case).

If you are concerned that your insurer has changed their position, please contact us to discuss further.  We can then assess the specific facts of your case to advise whether it appears your insurer has made a binding election or not and whether it might also be possible to argue that they have waived some requirement under the policy.

If we can assist in any way with your insurance claim, please do not hesitate to contact Paul Cowey at paulcowey@parryfield.com.

In the recent case of Skyward Aviation 2008 Ltd v Tower Insurance Ltd, the Court of Appeal considered whether, on the basis of Tower Insurance’s policy wording, the insurer or the insured customer had the right to decide between settling the insurance claim by rebuilding on site, rebuilding elsewhere, or buying elsewhere where the property had been deemed not “economically repairable”.

The Court held that, on the policy wording, the insured customer had the right, not the insurer.


The case concerned a Christchurch property located in the “Red Zone”.  The owner had accepted CERA’s offer to buy the land.  It had settled with EQC and had attempted to settle its insurance claim with Tower.

Tower maintained it had the right to decide how the insurance claim was settled, the insured argued otherwise.

The Policy wording

The key policy wording provided:


We will arrange for the repair, replacement or payment for the loss, once your claim has been accepted.

We will pay:

  •  the full replacement value of your house at the situation; or
  •  the full replacement value of your house on another site you choose. This cost must not be greater than rebuilding your house at the situation; or
  •  the cost of buying another house, including necessary legal and associated fees. This cost must not be greater than rebuilding your house on its present site; or
  •  the present day value;

 as shown in the certificate of insurance.

We will only allow you to rebuild on another site or buy a house if your house is damaged beyond economic repair

In all cases:

we will use building materials and construction methods commonly used at the time of loss or damage.

We are not bound to:

  • pay more than the present day value if you have full replacement value until the cost of replacement or repair is actually incurred. If you choose not to rebuild or repair your house or buy another house we will only pay the present day value and the reasonable costs of demolition and removal of debris including contents;
  •  pay the cost of replacement or repair beyond what is reasonable, practical or comparable with the original;
  •  repair or reinstate your house exactly to its previous condition.

The Decision

In holding that the insured customer had the right to decide how the claim was settled, the Court noted the following aspects of the policy in support (emphasis ours):

  • Tower reserves the right to pay only present day value “if you [the insured] choose not to build or repair your house or buy another house …
  • Tower reserves the right to disallow the insured from either building on another site or buying a house if the existing house is not damaged beyond economic repair. This right of veto could only be exercisedonce the insured had made the underlying choice. In other words, it assumes that the insured is generally at liberty to make the choice, then restricts the insured’s ability to choose options two (build elsewhere) or three (buy elsewhere) to the case where the existing house is not economically repairable
  •  The second alternative provides for full replacement value of the house “on another site you [the insured] choose” – that is, it is the insured’s right to choose.

Will this decision apply to other insurers?

Yes, if the relevant parts of the policy wording is the same or very similar.  The Court held that “An insurer cannot rely on a general statement of economic desirability to override the express or clearly implied provisions of its policy.”

The Court indicated however that the position may be otherwise if the policy expressly states that the insurer has the right to choose between the alternative bases for payment.

What if the insured customer does not intend to rebuild or buy elsewhere?

The Court agreed that, on Tower’s policy wording, Tower was only liable to pay the “present day value” of the home until the insured incurred the cost of buying or rebuilding elsewhere.  “Present day value” included an allowance for depreciation and deferred maintenance and was limited to the market value of the property less the value of the land.

In other words, if the insured wanted a cash settlement, Tower was not liable to pay more than “present day value”.

What if the property is “economically repairable”?

The Court indicated that, if the property was “economically repairable”, Tower was entitled to insist on repairing or rebuilding on the same site.

In addition, Tower was entitled to control the repair work for the reason that the cost of repair was at Tower’s risk (so it would want to control the cost) and to decide whether repairing or rebuilding is ultimately the better option.

This decision was appealed by Tower to the Supreme Court and heard in November 2014.  The Supreme Court dismissed Tower’s appeal holding that, where Tower has decided not to rebuild or replace a house, Tower’s payment obligation is determined by the choice the homeowner makes as to whether to rebuild the house, replace it on another site or buy another house.   

If we can assist in any way with your insurance claim, please don’t hesitate to contact Paul Cowey at paulcowey@parryfield.com.