Federal Court opens door to short insurance matters

12 April 2016

The Federal Court of Australia has announced a new specialist “Insurance List for Short Matters” as part of its National Court Framework reforms.

The list, which will be run by the Chief Justice in each state at least initially, is not for all insurance matters, but is designed for short matters, particularly those dealing with policy interpretation and the operation of the insurance legislation. The matters would be listed for hearings up to two hours in length to deal with these questions.

The Federal Court’s announcement (see here) says that the aim of the list is to “provide to the insurance commercial community: underwriters, reinsurers, brokers and insureds a list which caters for the prompt and efficient resolution of legal issues to enable the parties to otherwise resolve their disputes without the need for full-blown hearings where a crucial issue could be decided discretely and swiftly“.

The Federal Court decides whether a matter may be heard in the list based on a half-page statement lodged by a party detailing the reasons when the originating application is first filed with the court. The NSW Registry has indicated to us that no matters were listed in the Insurance List for Short Matters on the opening two days on 21-22 March.

Legal disputes involving the interpretation and operation of insurance policies are becoming more and more common, including recent high profile matters in the High Court. It will be interesting to see whether the specialist insurance lists lead to less such disputes. Conversely, it may be that the greater simplicity, speed and ease of using the list means that insurers and insureds are more willing to bring their disputes to the Court whereas previously the prospect of a long and uncertain road to a result might have encouraged parties to resolve their issues. As always, time will tell.

The Federal Court’s willingness to adapt to the ever changing economic environment and the role of insurance within it is to be commended.

This article was written by Jason Symons, Senior Associate and Andrew Miers, Partner.

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