Insurance fine print for photographers

Yesterday morning I received a renewal reminder from the company that insures my camera gear. Twenty minutes later I read a posting on a photographers’ discussion forum warning that some of the companies who offer specialist cover for press photographers equipment were saying that they were not going to pay out for equipment stolen, lost or damaged during the recent civil disturbances in London. I put on my “Vice Chairman of The BPPA” hat and got straight on the phone to the company that the association recommends to it’s members.

I had a long conversation with one of the directors of this major camera and public liabilities insurance brokerage regarding their position on claims from photographers who had equipment damaged or stolen during the recent violence.

He explained that they placed business with three separate insurance underwriters and that they were attempting to get a statement agreed by all three so that they could let us know what the definitive position was. As this was being negotiated, the Prime Minister was speaking during the emergency debate in the House of Commons. David Cameron mention the word ‘riot’ and said that there would be payments made under the 1886 Riot (Damages) Act. This led two of the underwriters to pull back from agreeing the statement until they could get clarification about the limitations of where and how the 1886 Act would be applied.

The insurance broker’s own interpretation of the Act says that at no time was a ‘riot’ declared and therefore they couldn’t see how payments under it could be expected. This left them having to make the decision to press the underwriters for their interpretations of the situation but the Association of British Insurers have not issued their guidance yet and therefore none of the insurance companies are prepared to stick their necks out either. I mentioned that one of the other brokers had told a photographer that their claim would be paid. He was surprised by this given that none of the London underwriters had made a decision yet.

We went on to talk about the cost of policies where full riot cover would be included and his estimate was that the current policies costing between 2% and 3% of the value of the kit insured would rise to between 15% and 20% and possibly more. He said that they would be happy to find any deals out there but that the existence of the 1886 Riot Act would remain a complicating factor.

This got me thinking about the other insurance policies that I have to cover me and my business and, as I had just renewed my policy, I thought that I’d check my car insurance. On first reading I couldn’t find anything that mentioned driving to or parking at a scene of civil disturbance but then I saw a catch all phrase about “knowingly placing the vehicle and/or it’s contents at risk”. A quick phone call later and I could see that driving to a riot for work would be a bad idea because my car insurers would not pay out if there was any damage or if the car were stolen. If a riot happened in my street or in a place where I had been on other business that would be OK – it’s the “knowingly” bit that would be an issue.

Next on my list was my own personal cover and, once again, I asked for clarification to be told that deliberately seeking out disorder would invalidate my cover. It was with a heavy heart and a sense of inevitability that my “all risks, business and domestic” travel insurance turned out to be a “not quite all risks” policy.

The moral of the story is simple: Do not assume that you are covered to do your job if that job takes you into harm’s way because it is very likely that neither you or your possessions are.

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