A person is at liberty to insure his vehicle with more than one insurance company. However, if he suffers a loss all insurers concerned will “contribute” towards the payment to put him in the position he was just prior to the loss. He will not be allowed to claim separately from each of the insurers as this may lead to his receiving more than the value of his loss.

Contribution Defined

Contribution can be defined as the rights (or the exercise of the rights) of an insurer to call upon other insurers similarly (though not necessarily equally) liable to the same insured to share the cost of an indemnity payment.

The important point here is that if an insurer has paid a full indemnity, it can recoup an equitable proportion from the other insurers of the risk. However, if a full indemnity has not been paid, then the insured will wish to claim from the other(s). The principle of contribution enables the total claim to be shared in a fair manner.

Contribution and a Common Interest

For two or more insurers to contribute towards a loss, the following conditions must be present:

  1. There must be some common ground between them.
  2. The policies must be contracts of indemnity..
  3. The policies must cover common interests.
  4. The policies must cover the common perils that caused the loss
  5. There must be a common subject matter of insurance.
  6. The policies must have been taken out by or on behalf of the same insured.
  7. Contribution can take place as long as there is some kind of overlap between policies.
  8. There are several cases supporting the conditions stated above. Some of them are considered below.

A Common Interest

The case of North British and Mercantile V. Liverpool, London & Globe (1877) popularly known as (the King and Queen Grangries’ Case) demonstrated that a common interest in the subject matter of insurance was necessary for contribution. The owners of a deposit of grain had a policy of fire insurance covering the grain, so too had the bailee who was responsible for it. The grain was destroyed by fire, the liability having attributed to the bailee, the bailee’s insurers paid the claim, but failed to recover a contribution from the owner’s insurers because the insured’s interests in the grain were different one being the bailee and the other owner.

A Common Peril

The perils insured by each do not require being identical under each contract, as long as it is the common peril which caused the loss. In the case, American Surety Co. of New York V. Wrightson (1910) an insurance covering dishonesty of employees was held to be in contribution with one covering dishonesty of employees and burglary. The dishonesty was the common peril.

A Common Subject Matter

The common subject matter may be some form of property, but may not necessarily be so, as it was in the American Surety case stated above. Similarly it could relate to a legal liability.

The Timing of Contribution

Contribution is a common law right arising whenever the principle of indemnity operates. It can only operate after an indemnity has been paid. To modify this common law right, a “contribution condition” is included in non – marine policies to allow insurers pay their individual share of any loss. The policyholder must therefore claim against all liable insurers in order to receive a full indemnity.

In marine insurance, the common – law rights still apply.

The policyholder can confine his claim to one of insurers if he so wishes and that insurer must meet the loss to the limit of his liability and at common-law, call for contribution from the others after he has paid. The contribution condition in most non-marine policies states that the insurer is liable only for his “ratable proportion” of the loss. That is, the insurer is liable for his share only. Therefore, the insured is left to make a claim against other insurers if he wishes to be indemnified. The condition does not make it compulsory for the insured to claim from the other policies, but in practice the insured do so.

Avoidance of Contribution Rights

There are three main ways in which contribution rights can be waived

  1. Non – Contribution Clause Sometimes contribution right is removed by a clause in one or both of the policies as follows: The policy shall not apply in respect of any claim where the insured is entitled to indemnity under any other insurance. This means that the policy would not contribute if there was another insurance in force. The wording may be modified by adding to the cheque given above the following; except in respect of any excess beyond the amount which would have been payable under such other insurance had this insurance not been effected.
  2.  More Specific Insurance Clause Sometimes, an insured may have a policy specifically insuring a property and another policy insuring a wide range of property including the property insured in the first policy. A non-contribution clause is usually included in the wide – range policy from contributing with the more specific policy unless such insurance is insufficient to pay the whole loss.
  3. Specific Market Agreement This is designed to prevent contribution where it is technically allowable. For example, if an employer’s loss is covered under his employer’s liability insurance and also under his motor insurance, the loss would be paid by the former. In law, no contribution can take place between two policies covering different interests, but in practice this dictum is often ignored. For example, one of the rules of the Fire Officers’ Committee applies contribution between insurers wherever real property is doubly insured by different people, for instance, two mortgages of the same property. This rule now protects insures from having to pay a loss twice over because of two differing interests.


Contribution is the right of an insurer to call upon other similarly liable insurers to the same insured to share the cost of an indemnity payment. In common law the insurer has right of contribution. In practice, this common law rule has been modified through policy condition or agreement.


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