Column: Roger's Soapbox


By: | August 3, 2015

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Fawlty Towers was a British TV show considered the acme of the half-hour situation comedy program. Basil Fawlty, owner of the eponymous hotel, would tell fibs that required much larger lies as situations ballooned out of his control. The greater truth underlying the show’s humor was how, in the ordinary course of events, the slightly ridiculous can become the completely deranged.

Basil was fictional, but his antics were greatly more believable than those of Maria Angeles Duran, a 54-year-old mother of four from Vigo, Spain.

She claims to own the sun, and in 2013 began selling square-meter plots of it on eBay. So far, so slightly amusing.

eBay didn’t see the humor, and since one cannot sell what cannot be owned, sent her packing. Duran, an unusual character whose earlier exploits included founding a religion and attempting to copyright Tarzan’s original call, sued eBay for breach of contract. The auction website tried to settle, but failed.

By that time, 1,000 people had bought plots on the sun, at one Euro a throw. As if that weren’t Fawlty enough, Duran applied to a Spanish court to be allowed to sue eBay and was granted permission.

A little spot of eccentricity has thus become a brouhaha of absurdity, and we’re nowhere near the end of the story.

Consider the matter from the insurance perspective.

For a start, it would be difficult to assess the nature of solar risks, and therefore to price them. The finest insurance modellers offer nothing in this area. A visit, in order to carry out a risk assessment, is out of the question.

A little spot of eccentricity has thus become a brouhaha of absurdity, and we’re nowhere near the end of the story.

Not even Sun Alliance (now part of the RSA Insurance Group) offers coverage against the type of risks one might experience on solar real estate.

The surface temperature of the sun is just shy of 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That rules out most homeowners’ insurance, as well as fire and probably all risks. Life insurance for those planning on moving to the solar region is also limited; not even Sun Life of Canada offers any relevant policies.

Experience tells us that, were construction possible on the sun’s surface, people would build homes dangerously close to the lava stream and then howl when their insurance premiums rose following an intense solar windstorm.

In most jurisdictions, Duran’s case would not have made it to the courts. Spanish law, however, is an odd beast and Duran might win. What then?

Solar builders would be unable to insure their projects, which would raise prices significantly. Duran might then sue the insurance industry for restraint of trade.

An insurance commissioner would have to be appointed to address issues arising from solar developments, and would need a hefty staff, the sun being quite a big place.

The NAIC would have to become the GAIC — the word National being replaced in its title by the word Galactic.

RIMS would have to be held on the sun every few years, which would be tricky since cocktails evaporate long before the temperature reaches 11,000 degrees.

Reinsurers would balk at any involvement, and a Solar Pool Re would have to be established.

A little far-fetched? Best to think ahead, I say. Plans are afoot for manned colonies on Mars, and insurers are already way behind on that project.

It’s time for the industry to develop sun-consciousness before the hedge fund guys beat them to it.

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