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Monday, June 15, 2015

the Exclusion : Damage caused by 'Vermin' - what is it ?


Marine Insurance has evolved over the years, driven by circumstances, experiences and case laws.  Marine Insurance Act 1963 under Sec 55 -  Included and excluded losses has this interesting exclusion.

Sec 55 (2) [C] -  unless the policy otherwise provides, the insurer is not liable for ordinary wear and tear, ordinary leakage and breakage, inherent vice or nature of the subject-matter insured, or for any loss proximately caused by rats or vermin, or for any injury to machinery not proximately caused by maritime perils.

May be an after-shoot of this, many Property Insurance Policies also exclude damage caused by pests – like lice, roaches, rodents, vermin etc.,  Even otherwise, in a named peril policy, the Insured would have to establish the loss as caused by an Insured peril and would find it difficult to establish as caused by ‘ Vermin’.  Somehow I got carried by the terminology ‘moth and vermin’ and mistook it to be another insect !.   A moth is an insect closely related to the butterfly, both being of the order Lepidoptera. Moths form the majority of this order; there are thought to be about 160,000 species of moth (nearly ten times the number of species of butterfly),with thousands of species yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal.  Moths are not easily differentiated from butterflies.  The Modern English word "moth” perhaps has its origin related to  "maggot" which by and large is indicative of larva.   

That drives to know what is ‘Vermin’ – to understand what is sought to be excluded !! 

Vermin is a term applied to various animal species regarded as pests or nuisances and especially to those associated with the carrying of disease. Interestingly, the term  or rather the species defined as ‘vermin’ could vary from area to area and person to person. The term derives from the Latin vermis (worm), and was originally used for the worm-like larvae of certain insects, many of which infest foodstuffs.   Varmint or varmit is an American-English colloquialism, particularly common to the American east and South-east within the nearby bordering states of the vast Appalachia region. The term describes farm pests which raid farms as opposed to infest farms—mainly predators such as foxes, weasels, and coyotes, sometimes even wolves or rarely, bears, but also, to a lesser degree, herbivores and burrowing animals that directly damage crops and land.  So Vermins are disease-carrying rodents and insects,  but the term is also applied to larger animals—especially small predators—typically because they consume resources which humans consider theirs, such as killing livestock and feeding on crops. Birds which eat cereal crops and fruit are an example. Pigeons, which have been widely introduced in urban environments, are sometimes considered vermin. Some varieties of snake may also be referred to as vermin.

Though could not be the exact definition – the term is a pejorative characterization as inferior and subhuman, and often considered social parasites.   A particular specie can develop into  vermin if introduced into regions where they find favourable living conditions, and if they face few or no natural enemies there. In such cases, humans often choose to fill the role of the predator to limit the danger to the environment. Rats, mice, and cockroaches are common urban and suburban vermin. Cats, introduced to countries such as Australia, have killed more indigenous wildlife than any other introduced animal, to the extent that they have been implicated in the extinction of many small mammals and amphibians.  

One would be surprised to read that millions of birds and animals  like badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, otters; green woodpeckers, jays, kingfishers, bullfinches  and more were systematically slaughtered in England and Wales under a Tudor law.  More than the environmental change, the Tudor Act is responsible for reducing many native creatures to a critically endangered level, centuries ago, thinning out the wildlife population in the garb of protecting the produce for mankind.    Red Kite was once a vermin, its population declined to extinction and then reintroduced by the trans-location of breeding pairs from elsewhere.

The dictionary meaning of Vermin is :
1 : small common harmful or objectionable animals (as lice or fleas) that are difficult to control  b:  birds and mammals that prey on game  c:  animals that at a particular time and place compete (as for food) with humans or domestic animals
2: an offensive person

The foregoing would provide you somewhat better understanding of “Vermin” and what was sought to be excluded under a Policy of Insurance.

Would be continued more in subsequent posts

With regards : S Sampathkumar.

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