DIVE LAWYER: Diving and life insurance? Are you covered?
Life insurance, also known as life assurance or death cover, is a policy of insurance where an insurance company will pay out a sum of money on your death.
This money can be put to use in paying off liabilities, such as your mortgage or inheritance tax, or simply providing a pot of cash that your loved ones can use to pick up the pieces after you have gone.
For most of us, death is something not often contemplated; not so for a life insurance company. Even more important is what we do while we are alive, because what we do during our life time affects whether the life insurance company pays out or not.
For most life insurance companies, scuba diving, in any form, is a hazardous pursuit or an ‘extreme sport’. No matter how they view it, it is usually seen as something they would wish to know about when you take out the policy. If the policy proposal form asks specifically about scuba diving, then all well and good, but all too often the form simply asks if you take part in activities that are hazardous or risky or out of the ordinary. If you don’t tell them that you take part in scuba diving, you may find that the policy is void and the insurer does not pay out.
Whether your failure to disclose your diving hobby (or instructing, which may even be seen as work) innocently, in error or through sheer forgetfulness, may be irrelevant. Any non-disclosure at all and however minor may allow the insurer to avoid the policy and not pay out. This is because a contract for life insurance is a contract in the utmost good faith, which means that the law takes very seriously the mere fact of not making full and frank disclosure and the onus rests firmly with the person seeking the insurance - the diver.
Of course, your life insurance policy may allow for scuba diving, but only where the insurance company is told, so that it can make a decision on changing the terms of the policy, not least the price of the premium.
And it doesn’t necessarily end with taking out the policy. Policies often contain a duty of on-going disclosure, so if you start diving while the policy is in place, you may still have to tell the insurer. Failure to do this is a non-disclosure and may let the insurance company off the hook.
Some life insurance policies are joint policies, covering the lives of say a husband and wife and failure to disclose on the part of one of the insured parties, is likely to void the policy for the other too, leaving neither insured.
It is vitally important to note that failure to disclose your diving may not only invalidate the policy where you die while diving. It may invalidate the policy in any event. The simple non-disclosure or any material issue is enough, whether or not your death is related to that non-disclosed issue.
Of course, if life insurance cover is a condition of your mortgage, a breach of your life insurance policy may be a breach of your mortgage terms and may even lead to your loved ones losing their home, after your death.
Some insurance companies will want details of your diving, such as length of time and experience and the depth and conditions that you dive to/in. They may require you to complete a further questionnaire or have a medical.
They may grant cover on the basis that you do not dive beyond stated depths and in certain conditions and may exclude certain types of diving such as technical diving or wreck and cave diving.
The insurer is likely to stipulate that you only dive with a suitably qualified divemaster, instructor or buddy and undertake recognised training with an organisation such as a PADI school, so as to ensure that you are capable of undertaking the dives that are allowed.
In short, you really do need to read the fine print in the policy. If you are at all unsure about the conditions that may be imposed in the policy speak to your broker or insurer or a solicitor.
You must remember that not all insurance companies are the same and some may not allow diving at all. To find insurance companies offering life insurance to divers, you may need to consult a specialist broker.
Andrew Tonge is qualified as a Solicitor and a Barrister. He has been practising law for over 15 years. He is also a PADI Instructor, experienced technical diver and a director at Odyssey Dive Centre Limited, based in Stockport and Wigan. Andrew can be contacted at Nexus Solicitors, Manchester, where he is a partner.
Keep up with all the latest diving news and reviews by following Sport Diver on Facebook.