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Property owner not covered for Melbourne inferno

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Swiss Re International has won a court case over establishing insurance cover was not in place when a large industrial fire broke out in western Melbourne in 2018.

The owner of the property in inner-suburban West Footscray, Danbol Pty Ltd, maintained in the Supreme Court of Victoria that it was covered for the fire on August 30 2018, but Swiss Re said the policy had expired six days earlier.

The case centred on whether a 14-day extension had been added to a policy expiring on August 24, as discussions continued about a renewal.

Emails were exchanged between Danbol’s broker, Griffiths Goodall Insurance Brokers, and Swiss Re representative Pen Underwriting before the expiration date. But the renewal was not straightforward as the usage of the site had changed to include storage of decommissioned gas bottles.

Swiss Re highlighted the issues and offered a 14-day extension to assist with placement for a premium of $3506.06.

After receiving more information about the gas bottles a renewal quotation for $106,708 was sent on August 29 at 12:33pm, and the 14-day extension was again offered if the terms were not accepted.

Fire broke out at the property at about 5am the next day, after which the renewal premium of $106,708 was returned to the company.

Justice Peter Riordan says in his judgment that none of the emails “on any reading” purported to accept the offer of a 14-day extension.

“The quid pro quo for the defendants’ 14-day extension of the policy was not the plaintiff’s consideration of the renewal of the policy or even refraining from entering into another insurer’s policy,” Justice Riordan says.

“The defendant’s offer was expressly to provide a 14-day extension in consideration of the promise to pay the extra premium. The plaintiff did not make that promise.”

Lander & Rogers Lawyers, who acted for Swiss Re, say the case illustrates the importance of expressly accepting offers.

“It is difficult to prove implied acceptance in the absence of clear language,” they say in an online post about the case.

The court decision is available here.