Tyrannical masters no more? Promissory insurance warranties after Viking Inshore Fishing (PTY) LTD v Mutual & Federal Insurance Co LTD

Author Graham Glover

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: BA LLB PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Rhodes University
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 30 Issue 3, 2019, p. 333 – 360


In this article, the implications of the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (“SCA”)in Viking Inshore Fishing (Pty) Ltd v Mutual & Federal Insurance Co Ltd for the law on promissory insurance warranties are considered. The article begins with an overview of the traditional position, which has been that such warranties are to be strictly interpreted and enforced, no matter the harshness of the result. Thereafter, the article discusses the contrasting decisions in Viking Inshore Fishing (Pty) Ltd v Mutual & Federal Insurance Co Ltd in the Western Cape High Court and the SCA. Wallis JA suggested on appeal that the strict traditional approach to promissory warranties was no longer appropriate, but without having to decide the point. The article next considers the implications of an obiter dictum of the SCA, in a matter relating to a court exercising admiralty jurisdiction, on insurance law in general. Thereafter, the article proposes that Wallis JA’s comments indicate an important change to our law on promissory warranties, specifically in relation to the need for there to be a causal link between the insured’s breach of the warranty and the loss suffered, before an insurer may exercise the power to repudiate the contract. Although others have made the causal-link argument before, this article tries to explain and situate this development in two doctrinal contexts: the modern law on contractual interpretation; and the doctrine of public policy. A supplementary argument relates to the drawing together of the law on promissory warranties with the rules relating to cancellation for major breach, in cases where an insurer pursues that remedy.