Britton v Royal Insurance Company: 1865

The insured made a claim under his insurance policy for twice the amount he had actually lost. It was an express condition of the insurance policy that a fraudulent part of a claim would avoid the balance of the claim.
Held: The duty of good faith in insurance contracts is a continuing one.
Willes J said: ‘A fire insurance, he said, is a contract of indemnity; that is, it is a contract to indemnify the assured against the consequences of a fire, provided it is not wilful. Of course, if the assured set fire to his house, he could not recover. That is clear. But it is not less clear that, even supposing it were not wilful, yet as it is a contract of indemnity only, that is, a contract to recoup the insured the value of the property destroyed by fire, if the claim is fraudulent, it is defeated altogether. That is, suppose the insured made a claim for twice the amount insured and lost, thus seeking to put the office off its guard, and in the result to recover more than he is entitled to, that would be a wilful fraud, and the consequence is that he could not recover anything. This is a defence quite different from that of wilful arson. It gives the go-bye to the origin of the fire, and it amounts to this – that the assured took advantage of the fire to make a fraudulent claim. The law upon such a case is in accordance with justice, and also with sound policy. The law is, that a person who had made such a fraudulent claim could not be permitted to recover at all. The contract of insurance is one of perfect good faith on both sides, and it is most important that such good faith should be maintained. It is the common practice to insert in fire-policies conditions that they shall be void in the event of a fraudulent claim; and there was such a condition in the present case. Such a condition is only in accordance with legal principle and sound policy. It would be most dangerous to permit parties to practise such frauds, and then, notwithstanding their falsehood and fraud, to recover the real value of the goods consumed. And if there is wilful falsehood and fraud in the claim, the insured forfeits all claim whatever upon the policy.’


Willes J


[1865] EngR 66, (1865) 4 F and F 905, (1865) 176 ER 843




England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedGalloway v Guardian Royal Exchange (UK) Limited CA 15-Oct-1997
The claimant’s policy had been declared void ab initio by the court. On the application form he had falsely stated that he had no convictions, but had only shortly before been convicted of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception. Part of the . .
CitedPorter v Zurich Insurance Company QBD 5-Mar-2009
The claimant insured his house with the defendants. Severely depressed, drunk and delusional, he set fire to it and now claimed after refusal to pay out. He said that he was not acting as a free agent.
Held: A claimant who seeks to recover . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Insurance, Insurance, Torts – Other

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.214223