Accidental And Deliberate Causes Of Loss

Given that any loss must be caused fortuitously to be covered by any insurance, one might think that an event caused deliberately which gives rise to a loss would not entide the insured to payment. This is not always so: to avoid payment the insurer will have to show that the damage was intentionally caused to the insured property.

– A fire which is started unintentionally in a building emits considerable smoke, which damages goods in a neighbouring warehouse. This is clearly a fortuity and the proximate cause of the smoke damage is the fire.

– A bonfire is deliberately lit, and its smoke causes damage to goods in a warehouse. The proximate cause of the loss is the fire, but there was nothing on fire which ought not to be on fire and the smoke did not come from a fire within the meaning of “fire” in a fire policy. The proximate cause is not a fortuity and any claim could be properly


– Bank notes and jewellery are hidden in an unmade fire in a grate, for safety. The insured later lights the fire, forgetting about the valuables, which are damaged. The fire was intended to be in the grate and had not broken its bounds. The test, however, is whether the insured intended the insured property to be on fire. The fire is clearly the proximate cause of the loss and its damage to the insured property is a fortuity, so that the insured could recover under a fire policy (Harrisv. Poland [1941] 1 All ER 204).

– Sugar is being refined by heating on a stove. An employee fails to open the draught-plate so that the stove overheats and the sugar is spoilt, but it does not ignite.

The excessive heat and smoke which damaged the sugar is not fire damage because nothing has ignited which ought not to have ignited and because the fire in the stove had not broken its bounds (Austin v. Drewe (1816) 6 Taunt 436). Any claim under a fire policy could be rejected