Strange insurance policies – scared to death, Kidnap & Ransom, political turmoil in Africa

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Strange insurance policies – scared to death, Kidnap & Ransom, political turmoil in Africa

Strange insurance policies

In what may be the most extreme installment of our crazy insurance policies series, we look into the shadowy world of Kidnap & Ransom Insurance, the turbulent era of Apartheid in Africa, and we ask the question: was Freddie Kruger so scary he could have given 80s cinema-goers a heart attack? People & Partners’ Jeff Whittaker lifts the lid on more strange insurance policies.

Strange insurance policies - Nightmare On Elm StreetScared To Death!

Several scary movies have been insured against cinema goers having a heart attack due to severe shock or fright. Sure, it’s usually a gimmick, but there have been a couple of cases of individual tragedy and mass panic that prove cinemas can be risky places when horror movies are involved.

In 1956 a Chicago boy was reported to have died from shock while watching a horror movie. The Coroner later discovered the boy had been suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition. At a cinema in Mali, children allegedly died due to being trampled. They’d been watching a horror film when the lights suddenly went out, causing panic and a sudden rush for the exits.

As a publicity stunt, insuring against death by fright was the brilliant promotion idea of 1950s horror movie producer William Castle who handed movie-goers a $1,000 policy with price of admission! It must have been one of the strangest insurance policies anyone had heard of back then, and it was a fantastic PR stunt that was to be repeated many times during the following three decades. In some cases, the movies shocked audiences. Films like The Exorcist and Jaws have lost a little of their edge over the years, but at the time of release, they were terrifying.

The one I remember was the original Nightmare On Elm Street with dear old Freddie Kruger. I’m not sure if anyone did die under these circumstances but insuring against death by fright was certainly a good PR stunt.

The James Bond of Insurance?

My first posting overseas was to Zambia (formally Northern Rhodesia) in 1975. The famous Kariba Dam joined two African countries: Zambia and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). All of ‘Black Africa’ at that time was rightly against Apartheid in South Africa, and also Rhodesia, where Prime Minister Ian Smith declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) rather than allow the winds of change to blow and accept that Rhodesia would be governed by the majority indigenous population.

Anyway, my job was to liaise with the Rhodesians to make sure the reinsurance on the Kariba Dam (placed via local insurers in both countries into the International Markets) was in order. To do this I had to cross the Dam into Rhodesia. Now, on the surface this may not be an obvious one to add to our list of strange insurance policies but it certainly created a bizarre scenario for a humble insurer. My job became a little risky and covert.

Under my contract at that time I was not allowed to go to South Africa or Rhodesia, even on holiday. So my boss’ solution was to get two passports, which I promptly did. I used those passports for almost 10 years. I felt like a wimpy James Bond (didn’t kill anyone though!). Quite a few of my colleagues had this arrangement also – for example, those travelling to Israel and the rest of the Middle East needed two passports.

Blak Ops Insurance – Kidnap & Ransom

Maybe the strangest class of cover though, is K&R Insurance (Kidnap and Ransom Insurance). I’m not supposed to mention it, so if this ends up being my last blog, you’ll know why! Nobody really advertises the fact they do this kind of cover. You certainly won’t see it on any company’s list of insurance policies! But there are a few special insurers who allegedly provide these policies.

When I first moved from the North of England (Sheffield) to London in 1971, one of my bosses knew quite a few shady characters. He seemed to move with the London in-crowd at that time – he frequently mentioned the infamous Kray Twins. But the strangest group he mixed with were the ones he called the ‘Dark Ops Boys’. These were in fact members of senior management at a K&R insurance Company.

I don’t know much about this class of insurance because no one wanted to tell me about it (in case they then had to kill me, I guess).

However, I did find out they do the following:

  • Sell this kind of insurance to seriously wealthy customers
  • Negotiate release in case an incident happens
  • Arrange a pay-off with the perpetrators
  • ‘Tidy up’ after the deal (don’t ask me anymore questions on this – If I lived in the USA I’d take the 5th Amendment!)

In my personal appearance this type of cover must top the list of strange insurance policies.

Where there’s a risk, there’s a policy

To the uninitiated, insurance may seem like a dry subject. Most people methodically pay their premiums each year, and they fortunately don’t need to worry about the more complex, critical and bizarre forms of cover. But for many clients and insurers around the world, policies are related to events and experiences that can not only change destinies – they can also be a matter of life or death!

Jeffrey James Whittaker is the CEO of People and Partners Insurance PLC, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is also Vice Chairman of the Insurance Association of Cambodia (IAC) and Chairman of their Education and P.R Committee. He is an experienced and frequent lecturer in insurance matters.

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