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S.African regulator working to clarify companies’ rights in pandemic insurance claims

By Emma Rumney

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s financial watchdog is consulting with lawyers and the insurance industry on a potential test case to clarify whether insurers should pay rejected claims from firms hit by the impact of the coronavirus, it told Reuters on Thursday.

Several lawsuits have been filed by individual firms, mostly in tourism and hospitality, after they were told by insurers that their policies did not cover coronavirus lockdowns.

A test case would aim to provide legal certainty in the matter, said Makgompi Raphasha, head of insurers and retirement fund administrators at the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA).

“It is too early for the FSCA to say when the case will be heard or when legal certainty might be achieved,” he said in an emailed response to questions, adding consultations with various stakeholders needed to conclude first.

Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has already taken a group of insurers to court as part of its own test case – that could affect 370,000 policyholders – and there have been questions as to whether the FSCA would take a similar approach.

Cases brought by individual firms turn on specific policy wordings, and are sometimes seen as applying to only one particular insurer or even one particular claimant.

A South African court already found in favour of claimant Cafe Chameleon in a case against the country’s fourth-largest non-life insurer Guardrisk. But the insurer is appealing and others say the judgement is not applicable to their policies.

Two other big South African insurers, Old Mutual and Santam, have told Reuters previously they would be open to participating in a test case if the FSCA was to launch one.

They, as well as others in the sector, have offered either interim relief payments or settlements for clients, many on the brink of failure, amid pressure from the FSCA and reputational damage over their stance.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Susan Fenton)


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