The European Commission has published a roadmap concerning its forthcoming Green Paper on retail financial services and insurance. The roadmap notes that the Green Paper, when published, will seek stakeholders’ views on how to bring about better outcomes for consumers and firms in terms of better access, more transparent markets, increased competition as well as greater consumer choice and improved consumer protection (on a domestic and cross-border level) in an increasingly digital environment. In particular, the paper will seek to identify the barriers in the market and investigate the means, including the state of the art technological and innovative solutions, to further improve the functioning of the EU Single Market for providing, purchasing and using retail financial services and insurance.
See Commission roadmap on Green Paper on retail financial services and insurance, 2 September 2015.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive (see Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts) provides that consumers are not bound by unfair clauses that are set out in a contract concluded with a seller or supplier. However, according to that directive, the assessment of the unfair nature of the terms concerns neither the definition of the main subject-matter of the contract nor the adequacy of the price and remuneration, on the one hand, as against the services or goods supplied in exchange, on the other, provided that those terms are drafted in plain, intelligible language.
In 1998, Jean-Claude Van Hove concluded two mortgage loan contracts with a bank. At the time of concluding those loan contracts, he signed a “group insurance contract” with CNP Assurances in order to guarantee, in particular, 75% cover of the loan repayments in the event of total incapacity for work. Following an accident at work, Mr Van Hove was found to have a permanent partial incapacity rate of 72% within the meaning of French social security law. The doctor appointed by the insurance company concluded that Mr Van Hove’s state of health, although no longer compatible with him returning to his former post, allowed him to carry on appropriate employment on a part-time basis. The company therefore refused to continue to cover the loan repayments in respect of Mr Van Hove’s incapacity.
Mr Van Hove brought legal proceedings seeking recognition that the terms of the contract are unfair as regards the definition of total incapacity for work and the conditions under which repayments are covered by the insurance. According to Mr Van Hove, the term relating to total incapacity for work causes a significant imbalance to the detriment of the consumer, especially as its definition is worded in such a way as to be unintelligible to a lay consumer. CNP Assurances considers that the term at issue cannot constitute an unfair term because it concerns the very subject-matter of the contract. Moreover, it contends that the definition of total incapacity for work is clear and precise, even if the criteria which are taken into account for the purposes of fixing the functional incapacity rate are different to those used by the social security authorities. In those circumstances, the French court seised of the dispute (the tribunal de grande instance de Nîmes) asks the Court of Justice if it is possible to assess whether the term in question is unfair
In Judgment in Case C-96/14 Jean-Claude Van Hove v CNP Assurances SA, the Court states, referring to the nineteenth recital in the preamble to the directive, that, in insurance contracts, terms which clearly define or circumscribe the insured risk and the insurer’s liability shall not be subject to an assessment of unfair character, since those restrictions are taken into account in calculating the premium paid by the consumer. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that the term at issue concerns the very subject-matter of the contract, in so far as it seems to circumscribe the insured risk and the insurer’s liability while laying down the essential obligations of the insurance contract. The Court leaves it to the national court to determine this point, indicating that it falls to that court, having regard to the nature, general scheme and the terms of the contract taken as a whole, as well as its legal and factual context, to determine whether the term lays down an essential component of the contractual framework of which it forms part.
As regards the question whether the term at issue is drafted in plain, intelligible language, the Court points out that the requirement of transparency of contractual terms, laid down by the directive, cannot be reduced merely to their being formally and grammatically intelligible, but that that requirement is to be interpreted broadly. In the present case, the Court does not rule out that the scope of the term defining the concept of total incapacity for work was not understood by the consumer. Thus, it may be that, in the absence of a transparent explanation of the specific functioning of the insurance arrangements relating to the cover of loan payments in the context of the contract as a whole, Mr Van Hove was not in a position to evaluate, on the basis of precise, intelligible criteria, the economic consequences for him which derive from it. It is again is for the national court to make a finding on that point.
According to the Court, the fact that the insurance contract forms part of a contractual framework with the loan contracts could be also relevant in that context. Thus, the consumer cannot be required to have the same vigilance regarding the extent of the risks covered by that insurance contract as he would if he had concluded the insurance contract and the loan contracts separately.
The Court therefore declares that terms that relate to the main subject-matter of an insurance contract may be regarded as being drafted in plain, intelligible language if they are not only grammatically intelligible to the consumer, but also set out transparently the specific functioning of the insurance arrangements, taking into account the contractual framework of which they form part, so that that consumer is in a position to evaluate, on the basis of precise, intelligible criteria, the economic consequences for him which derive from it. If not, the national court may assess the possible unfairness of the term at issue.
The Court of Milan, in its Judgement n. 4959/2015, published on 20 April 2015, R.G. n. 46086/2010, ruled that the misrepresentations of the assured on the security measures in place at inception of the policy, as represented under the proposal form, entail a gross negligence of the jeweller pursuant to art. 1892 of the Italian Civil Code (“codice civile”) and accordingly the insurer is not bound to pay the sum insured under the policy.
Article 1892 of the Italian Civil Code (“codice civile”) – named Misrepresentations or fraudulent or grossly negligent failure in disclose – provides that “If the contracting party, fraudulently or through gross negligence, misrepresents or fails to disclose circumstances which, if known to the insurer, would have caused him to withhold his consent to the contract, or to withhold his consent on the same conditions, the insurer can annul the contract. The insurer is entitled to the premiums covering the period of insurance running at the time when he petitioned for annulment of the contract, and in all cases to the premiums agreed upon for the first year. If the loss occurs before the expiration of the period indicated in the preceding paragraph, the insurer is not bound to pay the sum insured.“
The Court further ruled that the fact that the security measures were not in place also at the time of the loss entails autonomously a loss caused by gross negligence of the assured pursuant to art. 1900 of the Italian Civil Code (“codice civile”) – named Loss caused by fraud or gross negligence of the Insured – which provides that “The insurer is not liable for losses caused by the fraud or gross negligence of the contracting party, of the insured, or of the beneficiary, unless there is an agreement to the contrary for cases of gross negligence.“
Following the public consultation launched on 18 March 2014, IVASS published the Regulation No. 8 of 3 March 2015 concerning measures to simplify the administration of contractual relationships between insurance undertakings, intermediaries and clients. The Regulation implements Article 22, paragraph 15-bis of Law Decree No. 179 of 18 October 2012, as converted into law which required IVASS to enact measures aimed at reducing the paper format requirements and promoting the use of digital documentation. Below are the main relevant provisions set out by the new Regulation.
Italian and EU insurance undertakings and intermediaries are required to foster the use of advanced electronic signature, qualified electronic signature and digital signature for the execution of the insurance agreements.
Furthermore, with an aim at promoting the use of traceable means of payment, insurance undertakings and intermediaries must allow clients to pay insurance premiums by means of electronic payment instruments.
In addition, before the execution of the agreement or the signing of the proposal, insurance undertakings and intermediaries may obtain the client’s consent – also through voice recordings or email – to the electronic transmission of the relevant documentation during both the pre-contractual and contractual phase of the relationship with the client.
Insurance undertakings and intermediaries must adopt a documentation management system aimed at avoiding requests to clients of documentation which is not necessary or which has been already obtained in relation to previous relationships with the same client.
Italian insurance undertakings and intermediaries must obtain a certified e-mail account (“Posta Elettronica Certificata” or “PEC”) and indicate the PEC address in any communication addressed to the public and on their website. However, it is worth noting that this obligation already apply, upon registering with the Companies’ Register, to companies (Law Decree 185/08, converted into Law no. 2 of 28 January 2009) and sole traders (art. 5 of Law Decree no. 179 of 18 October 2012).
Insurance undertakings and intermediaries will have 6 months from the entry into force of the Regulation (which shall occur 30 days from publication in the Italian Official Gazette) to comply with the new provisions regarding the PEC address and the establishment of the above-mentioned documentation management systems.
The Regulations apply to the promotion, distribution and management by companies and intermediaries of life and non-life insurance contracts. Instead the distribution of insurance products pursuant to the IVASS Regulation No. 34 of 19 March 2010 would remain excluded from the scope of the Regulation.
The Insurance Block Exemption Regulation (“IBER”) is a sector-specific legal instrument that allows (re)insurers to benefit from an exemption to the prohibition of anti-competitive arrangements laid down in Article 101 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). At present, the exemption covers two types of agreements between (re)insurance undertakings:
The insurance sector is one of three sectors that still benefits from a block exemption regulation, since the concept of the direct applicability of the exemption of Article 101 (3) TFEU was introduced with Council Regulation 1/2003. The IBER expires on 31 March 2017 and the Commission will consider whether any parts of it would merit a renewal. In this regard, the Commission is required to submit a report on the functioning and the future of the IBER to the European Parliament and the Council by March 2016. The Commission is therefore gathering views and market information to carry out its assessment.
To that purpose the Commission has drawn a Questionnaire and invited all stakeholders to submit all relevant information on the functioning of the IBER, as well as their views on whether the Commission should renew any of the IBER provisions in a new block exemption regulation. Input from stakeholders will be a key element for the Commission’s assessment. The Commission welcomes comments in particular from (re)insurance undertakings, industry associations, insurance intermediaries, public authorities, consumer organisations and customers, as well as competition practitioners, researchers and think tanks. Comments from other stakeholders who have direct experience with the application of the IBER are also welcome.