Insurance law is the practice of law surrounding insurance, including insurance policies and claims. It can be broadly broken into three categories - regulation of the business of insurance; regulation of the content of insurance policies, especially with regard to consumer policies; and regulation of claim handling.
The earliest form of insurance is probably marine insurance, although forms of mutuality (group self-insurance) existed before that. Marine insurance originated with the merchants of the Hanseatic league and the financiers of Lombardy in the 12th and 13th centuries, recorded in the name of Lombard Street in the City of London, the oldest trading insurance market. In those early days, insurance was intrinsically coupled with the expansion of mercantilism, and exploration (and exploitation) of new sources of gold, silver, spices, furs and other precious goods - including slaves - from the New World. For these merchant adventurers, insurance was the "means whereof it comes to pass that upon the loss or perishing of any ship there followed not the undoing of any man, but the loss lighteth rather easily upon many than upon a few... whereby all merchants, especially those of the younger sort, are allured to venture more willingly and more freely.
The expansion of English maritime trade made London the centre of an insurance market that, by the 18th century, was the largest in the world. Underwriters sat in bars, or newly fashionable coffee-shops such as that run by Edward Lloyd on Lombard Street, considering the details of proposed mercantile "adventures" and indicating the extent to which they would share upon the risks entailed by writing their "scratch" or signature upon the documents shown to them.
At the same time, eighteenth-century judge William Murray, Lord Mansfield, was developing the substantive law of insurance to an extent where it has largely remained unchanged to the present day - at least insofar as concerns commercial, non-consumer business - in the common-law jurisdictions. Mansfield drew from "foreign authorities" and "intelligent merchants"
"Those leading principles which may be considered the common law of the sea, and the common law of merchants, which he found prevailing across the commercial world, and to which every question of insurance was easily referrable. Hence the great celebrity of his judgments, and hence the respect they command in foreign countries".
By the 19th century membership of Lloyd's was regulated and in 1871, the Lloyd's Act was passed, establishing the corporation of Lloyd's to act as a market place for members, or "Names". And in the early part of the twentieth century, the collective body of general insurance law was codified in 1904 into the Marine Insurance Act 1906, with the result that, since that date, marine and non-marine insurance law have diverged, although fundamentally based on the same original principles.
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