Crazy Insurance Policies – stunt elephants, the Pope, and Cold War Olympics

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Crazy Insurance Policies – stunt elephants, the Pope, and Cold War Olympics

Crazy insurance policies

If there’s an element of risk, there’s a need for insurance. That makes for some very strange policies, covering some of the most obscure and unique objects, animals and people in the world. One of the pioneers of insurance in Cambodia, People & Partners’ Jeff Whittaker, reflects on crazy insurance policies he’s seen during his 50-year career.

Crazy Insurance Policies – stunt elephants, the Pope, and Cold War Olympics

We recently covered some of the most famous celebrity insurance policies and a brief but colourful article on the history of insurance. This week we start our series of blogs on crazy insurance policies and bizarre claims. If some of these examples seem a little hard to believe, just imagine what the clients stood to lose in the event of unfortunate events.

Crazy insurance policies - Pope John Paul IISuper Pope cancels African Tour

Pope John Paul II probably spent more time on tour than most hardworking rock bands. He is considered one of the most well travelled leaders in history, and his extensive itinerary led to the reparation and building of relationships between religions and cultures.

Even an assassination attempt that led to serious injuries couldn’t stop this jet-setting pope, although it did lead to bullet-proof glass being added to the ‘pope mobile’. Few journeys were ever cancelled but health issues finally ruined one of his visits to Africa. The organisers were obviously upset, but it was the people who took a gamble and made souvenirs to sell (flags, badges, Papal Hats, Model Pope Mobiles etc.) who stood to lose a lot of money if he didn’t show up, so they organized a ‘contingency’ policy.

I remember it because one of my colleagues got me a Pope mug commemorating the visit that never happened. Sadly it got broken while our personal effects were being moved from Africa to Indonesia. I assume Lloyds made a loss on that policy (on the Pope I mean, not my personal effects in transit).

Americans snubbed by Russians at Los Angeles Olympic Games

For the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the main concern of the organisers was that the entire Russian squad may pull out. The Cold War was in full swing after all. But this was an especially delicate scenario given the fact the U.S. team had boycotted the previous Summer Olympics held in Russia due the invasion of Afghanistan. So while this deserves to among our list of crazy insurance policies, the level of risk demanded some kind of cover.

I was back on leave in London at the time, (I’d been living and working in Kenya) and one of our ‘Super’ Insurance Brokers got offered a line on the insurance policy by American Insurance Brokers to place it into the Lloyds and London Company Market (i.e. with many insurers on it, spreading the risk).

Of course the Russians pulled out (along with several Eastern Block countries), which left a huge claim on the Insurance Policy. Our company share was 10 million US dollars! Sadly the ‘Super’ Broker who accepted the risk for us (he used to fly by helicopter to some of his clients) got the sack. Insurance can sometimes be a risky business!

Stunt elephants versus stunt horses

Not all crazy insurance policies are based on contingency, and not all bizarre insurance is done at Lloyds of London. I have insured stunt elephants in Thailand when I worked there for a local insurance company in the early 2000s. An epic film was being made about a great Thai hero who fought against invaders. This great warrior fought on war elephants decked out in wooden armour and boots.

The producers were quite concerned about these 20 or so elephants, particularly their relationship with the stunt horses, which were brought in especially for the film from Australia.

Stunt horses are divided into three classes:

  • Fallers
  • Rearers
  • Heroes

Fallers? Well they just fall down on command as if they were shot (or, in this case speared or pierced by an arrow). Rearers rear up in fright and usually throw their riders off (also Australian stuntmen). And heroes ride off into the sunset, happy to have survived another battle and another film set.

The elephants hated the horses and the horses were scared of the elephants, but they had to fight together.

How to solve this problem? The Thai producer figured it out. They put the elephant camp far away from the horse camp and gradually moved it nearer and nearer everyday until they became (almost) friends. Of course the time would come when they had to charge the enemy who were conveniently on foot, and crush them into the dust. Indeed that’s what happened. We insured the elephants and the horses against death, injury and disease for the duration of the film.

Never having done this before I wanted them to bring in Tigers, Boa Constrictors and packs of wolves as well. Common Sense prevailed and I only got to insure the elephants and horses! We made a profit on this policy. Only one horse died, from eating bad food.

Major films are usually insured these days for exotic animals, stunt tricks, battles, jail breaks, pyrotechnic booms and bangs etc. If you can ever be bothered to view all the credits on a film, you can usually see who insured. We have insured a film here in Cambodia intended for general release. The policy covers the main actors against accident or illness whilst filming, which includes a couple of battles, a jungle scene and a jail break – all good stuff. No claims on that one!

Stay tuned for more blogs on crazy insurance policies, including a few relatively new types that have emerged due to technology.

Jeffrey James Whittaker has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the insurance industry, working in high-profile roles in the UK, Africa, Australia and South-East Asia. He has worked on numerous ‘Mega Projects’ like sky trains, subway systems, hydro-electric dams and various oil/gas projects. Jeff is a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute (London), a Chartered Insurer, and currently Vice Chairman of the Insurance Association of Cambodia (IAC).

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