A Lagos law firm, A.O.S.Practise, alongside,a property development, Company Aribisala Properties Limited, have slammed N486.5 million on five Insurance companies and National Insurance Commission over alleged breach of contract.
The defendants in the suit filed before a Lagos Federal high court as first to sixth defendants respectively are NATIONAL INSURANCE COMMISSION,NEM INSURANCE PLC, CUSTODIAN INVESTMENT PLC,CORNERSTONE INSURANCE PLC,TANGERING GENERAL INSURANCE PLC AND CONSOLIDATED HALLMARK INSURANCE PLC.
In a statement of claim filed before the court against the six defendants by the Principal partner of A.O.S. Practice Chief Ajibola Aribisala SAN leading six other lawyers,on behalf of the Plaintiffs,the plaintiffs stated that,they retained the services of an insurance broker,Hogg Robinson Nigeria Limited as their insurance Broker to source for the best insurance policy to suit their needs.
Sometime in March 2015, the insurance Broker informed the Plaintiffs that the Nem Insurance had approached it with the desire of being the Plaintiffs’ Insurer.
The Insurance broker, noting the continual renewal of the license of the insurance companies as insurers by the National Insurance Commission held out the five Insurance companies as suitable underwriters to the plaintiffs
Subsequently, the Insurance Broker provided the Plaintiffs with the Nem Insurance quotation for a most suitable policy to ensure that the Plaintiffs’ assets were well protected.
Following provision of the Nem Insurance’s Policy to the plaintiffs which will provide suitable protection for their assets, the Plaintiffs purchased and paid the Insurance Premium provided by the Nem Insurance and the other four insurance companies as Co- underwriters.
For six years the plaintiffs held the policy and consistently paid the premium charged by Nem insurance for a renewal of the policy on an annual basis, for the six years up until 2021the plaintiffs paid the premium due to the insurance companies without any incident warranting a claim.
The unfortunate fire incident which occur at the Plaintiffs’ insure premises on 4th of November,2021, about 8pm the 3Hp Daikin Standing Air Conditioner in the library was purchased brand new from Daikin and was regularly maintained and serviced by the in-house A/C technician engaged by the plaintiffs,in the library 5th Floor of the Plaintiffs’ building burst into flames.
The librarian of the law firm in the name of Chinedu Nzerim immediately grabbed the Fire extinguisher stationed by the main door of the library and sought to extinguish the fire.
However, instead of the fire diminishing, there was a further outburst of fire which charged the librarian away from the immediate environs of the fire.
The Federal fire services Department arrived at about 9.30 and tried thier best, despite the fact the flame had been put off,the effect of the fire lingered as smoke continue to billow off the building.
The plaintiffs gave prompt notice to the insurance companies,after which Nem insurance appointed loss adjuster
The loss adjuster visited the building on 5th of November,2021 confirmed the damaged portion of the insured Assets.
In the loss adjuster confirmation during his visit agreed that renovation should immediately commence while the insurance is running so as not to truncate A.O.S practice’s business.
The plaintiffs contacted Grange construction Limited the company that built the property and has been contracted to maintain the building since it’s construction,to commence the renovation exercise.
The Plaintiff avers that in light of the Loss Adjuster and the Co-Insurers
continued failure to treat the Plaintiff’s insurance claim, the Plaintiffs vide a letter of demand dated 18th July, 2022 demanded to be reimbursed immediately, in the sum of N186.502.030.00 representing the total claim submitted by the plaintiffs being monies spent in the restoration of the infrastructure, fixtures, fittings and funds required to purchase new books to restore the library to what it used to be before the fire incident.
The Plaintiffs also informed the Nem Insurance that they will also claim consequential damages in the sum of N250Million for the losses which the firm has suffered due to the Nem Insurance’s inexcusable delay in the settlement of the Plaintiffs claim.
In response to the plaintiffs’ letter of Demand dated 18th July 2022 the insurance companies’ solicitor,Plaintiffs’ Messrs Shola Abidakun & Co issued a correspondence dated 12th August 2022 to the plaintiffs wherein it was averred that it’s client is not oppose to amicable settlement in the interest of mutual business relationship,if the plaintiffs demand can come down to a more reasonable and affordable sum payable by Nem insurance company.
Fire incidents are peculiar in nature and there cannot be a like circumstance of fire incidents.The damages occasioned by a fire incident vary from incident to incident.
The Plaintiffs also issued demand letters dated 8th August,2022 to the Co-Insurers; Custodian & Allied Insurance Plc, Cornerstone Insurance Plc, Tangerine General Insurance Plc, and Consolidated Hallmark Insurance Plc.
The Plaintiffs aver that the five Insurance companies shirked their duty as insurance institutions to treat the Plaintiffs fairly as required by regulatory guidelines when they failed to:act competently, carefully, and diligently in treating the Plaintiffs’ claim of which they were duly notified;It was apparent that the insurance companies sought to frustrate the plaintiffs to enable them bargain the claimed amount.
The Plaintiffs aver that in spite of the letters of demand issued to the insurance companies, they have neglected and/or refused to settle the just claims of the Plaintiffs arising from the policy upon which all premiums charged were duly paid, without any explanation whatsoever till date, after being informed of the Claim of the Policy Holders vide the letter of the claim dated 2nd February, 2022.
Consequently,the Plaintiffs claims against the defendants jointly and severally are as follows:
A declaration that in view of Sections 31 and 40 of the National Insurance Commission Act, the National insurance commission owe the Plaintiffs a statutory duty to protect them from unsound insurers such as the five insurance companies: who are being allowed to operate freely in the insurance market as underwriters.
A declaration that in line with the provisions of sections 31 and 40 of the National Insurance Commission Act, the five Insurance companies are unsound insurance companies as they can no longer honour their financial Obligation to insured parties, the plaintiffs inclusive.
A declaration that the National Insurance company as a Chief regulator is empowered by Section 35 of the National Insurance Commission Act,to undertake Special Inspections, impose fines, withdraw licenses and issue suspension(s) to the insurance companies and any other Insurance companies who are in violation of the National Insurance Commission’s Guidelines issued to sanitize the insurance industry and protect policy holders.
An order awarding special damages against the National insurance commission and the five insurance companies in the sum of N186,502,030 being the sum due on the Plaintiffs’ claim.
An order that interest on the sum of N186,502,030 due to the Plaintiffs’ from the five insurance companies calculated at the rate of 21% per annum from the 16th May, 2022 being the day immediately after the 90 days allowable period for settlement of claims, until judgement is delivered and thereafter at the rate of 10% per annum until the final liquidation of the judgment debt by the five insurance companies.
An order awarding general damages of N250,000,000 in favour of the Plaintiffs and against the Defendants on account of the economic loss suffered by the Plaintiffs owing to the tardy handling of their claims by the five insurance companies
Cost of instituting this suit in the sum of N50,000,000.
However in a statement of defence filed before the court on behalf of the five Insurance companies,by a Lagos lawyer Barrister Olushola Abidakun,the Insurance companies specifically deny nearly all the allegation of fact contained in the Claimants’ Statement of Claim
They aver that the whole allegation and pleadings about the fire incident of the Plaintiffs’ office at No. 142, Bamgbose Street, Lagos on the 4th of November,2021Lagos Island was blown out of proportion.
They aver that, the truth as to the cause of the fire incident, as pleaded in the Plaintiffs’ Statement of Claim is, “the Daikin Standing Air Conditioner in the library which burst into flames”.
The insurance companies aver that this cause of fire incident contract, was already envisaged, as a result of which in the the Policy No. NIAR/100925/IKJ, at page 10, paragraph 1(c)under the general exclusion clause,that the policy does not cover damage to any electrical machine apparatus or any portion of the electrical and consequential loss or damage installation as it is the case in the instant paragraph 36 of the Statement of Claim, where “the 3HP
Daikin Standing Air Conditioner in the library, burst into flames” and consequently caused some soot dust to cover the walls and few of the books in the library; and not a single book or anything got burnt as a result of the fire incident.
Having discovered that the claim of the Plaintiff was outside the scope of the perils covered by the Insurance Policy, Nem insurance call the plaintiffs attention to the General Exclusion to the perils as clearly and boldly stated in big capital letters at page 9 of the policy.
The counsel representing the insurance companies wrote a letter dated 12th August, 2022 specifically calling the Plaintiffs’ attention to the Insurance Policy, that their claims are not in any way covered by the Insurance Policy.
The Plaintiffs erroneously misinterpreted the good gesture of the the insurance companies in their communications and particularly the said letter dated 12th August, 2022 as acceptance of their claims, when it is very obvious to both parties, that the claims are not covered by the Insurance Policy, as clearly stated in the clause under the “GENERAL EXCLUSION TO THE PERILS”.
The Plaintiffs are duly aware that their claims are not covered by the Insurance Policy, as a result of which they are trying to take advantage of the good gesture
The insurance companies aver that asides the non coverage of the Plaintiffs claims by the Insurance Policy, there is a blatant breach of the agreement by the Plaintiffs, of the insurance policy, which demands that notice of the alleged fire incident be given in writing to the insurer by the insured.
The Plaintiffs pleaded that the fire incident occurred on 4th November, 2021 at 8:00 pm at their office which is located at No. 142, Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, Lagos.
By virtue of the agreement of the parties at page 22 of the Insurance Policy, the Plaintiffs are to NOTIFY the Nem insurance company and four other insurance companies in writing within 30 days of the occurrence of the fire incident.
There is neither a paragraph whatsoever, out of the 203 paragraphs of the Plaintiffs’ Statement of Claim, nor any Written Notification whatsoever, among the 29 documents in the list of documents to be relied upon at the trial, that reflects any written notification of the fire incidents dated November, 2021 which is the month within which a Notification in writing along with the Statement of Claim ought to have been received by the insurer.
The failure of the plaintiffs to send a written notification of the fire incident to the insurance companies as agreed by the parties has further compounded the claim of the plaintiffs, which are not covered by the policy.
The Insurance companies as parties to this suit have no business to be before this court,in respect of the subject matter of this suit as the appropriate venue to resolve whatever differences or disputes between the parties in this suit is through arbitration and not litigation.
They aver that, page 14, paragraph 8 which is the last paragraph of the page in the Insurance Policy, explains clearly where any dispute or differences between the parties herein should be referred and amicably settled and not to be referred to this honourable court.
The insurance companies aver that the only option available for this suit of the plaintiffs, is for the suit to be struck out, so as to assist the Plaintiffs to go and do the right thing, by going through the proper channel to ventilate whatever grievances they have against the Defendants in this suit,
They urge the court to dismiss all the claims of the plaintiffs in their entirety with substantial cost awarded in favour of the insurance companies for filing this suits against the Insurance companies.
Meanwhile,the presiding Judge Chukwujekwu Aneke has adjourned till Monday,5th of June,2023 for hearing.