Boggan v Motor Union Insurance Company

CourtHouse of Lords (Ireland)
Judgment Date14 June 1923
Date14 June 1923
Motor Union Insur. Co. v. Boggan
BOGGAN,Respondent (1)

[House of Lords.]

H. L.

Insurance policy - Exceptions - Riot or civil commotion - Loss of motor car - Theft by armed men.

The respondent insured a motor car with the appellant company against loss or damage by fire, burglary, house-breaking, or theft. An exception in the policy provided that the insurers were not to be liable for "loss or damage arising during (unless it be proved by the insured that the loss or damage was not occasioned thereby), or in consequence of . . . riot, civil commotion, military, or usurped power." While the car was out on hire in Co. Wexford in November, 1920, the owner's chauffeur was held up by three or four armed men who blindfolded and removed him, and took away the car. The police had been called in from a few outlying stations; motor cars had been commandeered and not returned, and receipts given in three cases; a post-office motor cycle had been taken; there had been some raids for shot-guns and for mails; and early in January, 1921, martial law was proclaimed in the county.

Held, by the House of Lords (1), reversing the order of the High Court of Appeal for Ireland, which confirmed an order of the Court of Appeal in Southern Ireland (2), refusing to set aside the judgment awarded to the plaintiff by the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, on 25th of November, 1921, that the Courts below should have drawn the inference, from the proved and admitted facts, that at the time of the seizure of the motor car there was both civil commotion and riot.

Per the Earl of Birkenhead: In dealing with a policy of insurance of a motor car, the relevant area within which one must ask whether or not there was disturbance or commotion, is that area over which a motor car, with reasonable compass and range, may be expected to travel. He inferred from the evidence that the car was taken by men working in the interest of those who were carrying out disorder, and engaged in violent courses in Ireland, and whose motive was not private gain. The circumstances were not those of a normal theft. There was an assumption of strength and of organization by the perpetrators who acted as masters of the situation.

Per Lord Wrenbury: All the elements of riot which were considered in Field v.Receiver of Metropolitan Police ([1907] 2 K. B. 853) were satisfied. The law was paralysed. The true meaning and scope of the policy was, as stated by O'Connor L.J., that where the arm of the ordinary law was paralysed by commotion or riot, the insurers were not to be liable for theft by armed men.

Earl of Birkenhead (1):

My Lords, this is an appeal from an order of the High Court of Appeal for Ireland, dated the 27th of November, 1922, which confirmed an order of the Court of Appeal in Southern Ireland, dated the 17th July in the same year, refusing an application by the appellants that the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice for Ireland, delivered on the 25th of November, 1921, should be set aside.

My Lords, I regret myself, if only for sentimental reasons, that in probably what is one of the last appeals, if not the last, which will come to this House from Southern Ireland, it should be necessary for me to give a judgment which overrides the decision of so many Irish Judges; but having formed, as I have formed, a clear view upon the issues which are presented, it is necessary that I should state it.

The matter which falls to be decided arises from a policy of insurance which was effected by the respondent with the appellants upon a Ford motor car, of which he was the owner. The date of the expiry of the policy was the 12th of June, 1921, and the parts of the policy with which we are most closely concerned are the terms of exception (c). The exceptions are, of course, the cases which are not covered by this policy, and the relevant exception is in the following words: "Loss or damage arising during (unless it be proved by the insured that the loss or damage was not occasioned thereby) or in consequence of earthquake, war, invasion, riot, civil commotion, military or usurped power." Now the words, "unless it be proved by the insured that the loss or damage was not occasioned thereby," are enclosed within brackets, and may be dismissed with the observation that one is not to forget in construing this exception that the onus, as learned counsel for the respondent very properly pointed out, is upon the appellants here; and I bear that in mind in the observations I am about to make.

Having made that plain, let me re-read the exception, omitting those words: "Loss or damage arising in consequence of riot, civil commotion," &c. It is therefore...

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