Insurance, in law and economics, is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of potential financial loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a potential loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for a premium and duty of care.
Principles of insurance
The timing or occurrence of the loss must be uncertain.
The rate of losses must be relatively predictable: In order to set premiums (prices) insurers must be able to estimate them accurately. This is done using the Law of Large Numbers which states that: The larger the number of homogenous exposures considered, the more closely the losses reported will equal the underlying probability of loss. If the coverage is unique, the insured will pay a correspondingly higher premium. Lloyd's of London often accepts unique coverages. (e.g., the insuring of Tina Turner's legs and Jennifer Lopez's buttocks)
The losses must be predictable on a macro level: Insurers need to know how much they would be required to pay when the insured-for event occurs. Most types of insurance have maximum levels of payouts, but not all do, notably health insurance.
The loss must be significant: The legal principle of De minimis dictates that trivial matters are not covered. Furthermore, rational insurance uses existing insurance when the transaction costs dictate that filing a claim is not rational.
The loss must not be catastrophic: If the insurer is insolvent, it will be unable to pay the insured. In the United States, there is a system of Guaranty Funds run at the state level to reimburse insured people whose insurance companies have become insolvent.  This program is run by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).  To avoid catastrophic depletion of their own capital, insurers almost universally purchase reinsurance to protect them against excessively large accumulations of risk in a single area, and to protect them against large-scale catastrophes.
Insurance Contract Principles
A property or liability insurance policy is a "personal contract," a "conditional contract," a "unilateral contract," a "contract of adhesion," a "contract of indemnity," and a contract which requires that the person insured have an insurable interest at the time of the insured-against contingency.
Property and liability insurance policies cover persons and not property or operations. Although the terms "insured my house" or "insured my motorcycle" are used commonly, they are not technically correct. The contract between the insurer and the insured is a personal contract between an insuring entity and a person(s) and not the object being insured. In other words, the question of whether payment is due upon the occurrence of a contingency, and how such payment will be measured, depends upon economic loss suffered by the person(s).
Property and liability insurance policies are said to be "conditional contracts" because the obligation of the insurer to perform may be conditioned upon the insured satisfying certain conditions.
Only one party is legally bound to contractual obligations after the premium is paid to the insurer. Only the insurer has made a promise of future performance, and only the insurer can be charged with breach of contract.
Contract of Adhesion
Property and liability insurance policies are said to be "contracts of adhesion" because the insurer and insured parties are of unequal bargaining power where the insured party cannot negotiate the terms of the contract and must take the offer of the insurer as made. Importantly, the rule of law regarding "contracts of adhesion" is that any ambiguities resolve in favor of the insured.
Contract of Indemnity
Property and liability insurance policies are said to be "contracts of indemnity" because the purpose of insurance is to indemnify the insured--that is, to make good a loss that the insured has suffered. The principle of indemnification is that the insured should not profit from the policy. This does not preclude that the insured will suffer some loss. In fact, many policies include a deductible which guarantees that the insured will pay part of each loss himself.
Insurable interest is one wherein economic loss would be suffered from an adverse occurrence to the person(s) insured.
An entity seeking to transfer risk (an individual, corporation, or association of any type) becomes the 'insured' party once risk is assumed by an 'insurer', the insuring party, by means of a contract, defined as an insurance 'policy'. This legal contract sets out terms and conditions specifying the amount of coverage (compensation) to be rendered to the insured, by the insurer upon assumption of risk, in the event of a loss, and all the specific perils covered against (indemnified), for the term of the contract.
When insured parties experience a loss for a specified peril, the coverage entitles the policyholder to make a 'claim' against the insurer for the amount of loss as specified by the policy contract. The fee paid by the insured to the insurer for assuming the risk is called the 'premium'. Insurance premiums from many clients are used to fund accounts set aside for later payment of claims - in theory for a relatively few claimants - and for overhead costs. So long as an insurer maintains adequate funds set aside for anticipated losses, the remaining margin becomes their profit.
How an insurance company makes money
A customer might pay one or more premium payments over time. The company collects these payments from one or more customers. If something happens which triggers a claim, the company then pays out a certain amount of money. If, during the lifetime of all of the company's insurance contracts, it pays out less than it has taken in, it makes what is known as an underwriting profit. One measure of an insurance company's performance is their loss ratio (incurred losses and loss-adjustment expenses divided by net earned premium). The loss ratio is added to the expense ratio (underwriting expenses divided by net premium written) to determine the company's combined ratio. The combined ratio is a reflection of the company's overall underwriting profitability. A combined ratio of less than 100 percent indicates a profit, while anything over 100 is a loss. One company that is famous for achieving underwriting profit is American International Group. Berkshire Hathaway, by contrast, is famous for making its money on "float" rather than underwriting profit. Float is the concept that as insurance premiums are collected up front, and claims paid over time (sometimes up to periods of 10 years or more), the insurance companies are able to collect investment income on the money they have reserved for claims that have not occurred yet, or have not yet been paid. Over time, this interest is compounded into significant dollars, particularly for a company as large as Berkshire Hathaway.
In many cases a company's combined ratio is greater than 100 percent, however the company still manages to make money. This is because in between the time the company collects premiums and when it pays out claims, it can invest that money. The return from these investments may offset an underwriting loss resulting in profit. For example, if a company has to pay out 10 percent more than it took in, but made a 20 percent return on its investment, then it made a 10 percent profit. However, since most insurance companies consider it only prudent (and may be mandated to do so by laws controlling insurance businesses in the territory in which they operate) to invest in risk-free government bonds, or other lower risk and lower return forms of investments, it's important that the extra amount it has to pay out compared to what it has to take in is less than the percent return of these investments. If it isn't, the company loses money. The extra amount that a company has to pay out can be considered a "cost of funds" and be compared to an interest rate of the same company borrowing money. Because of this, most insurance companies don't have a goal just to have any amount of profit over the cost of funds, but rather to have this cost of funds be lower than what they would have been able to get by borrowing somewhere else. If this isn't the case, the insurance company does not add any value to their owners, who theoretically could have borrowed money from somewhere else and made the same investments themselves.
Although insurers traditionally depended upon underwriting profit to provide them with operating profit, market forces now require that insurers earn the bulk of their profit on investment income on premiums held pending claims occurrence. This is a form of financial leveraging.
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