Contract that, by redistributing risk among a large number of people, reduces losses from accidents incurred by an individual. In return for a specified payment (premium), the insurer undertakes to pay the insured or his beneficiary a specified amount of money in the event that the insured suffers loss through the occurrence of an event covered by the insurance contract (policy). By pooling both the financial contributions and the risks of a large number of policyholders, the insurer is able to absorb losses much more easily than is the uninsured individual. Insurers may offer insurance to any individual able to pay, or they may contract with members of a group (e.g., employees of a firm) to offer special rates for group insurance. Marine insurance, covering ships and voyages, is the oldest form of insurance; it originated in ancient times with loans to shipowners that were repayable only on safe completion of a voyage, and it was formalized in medieval Europe. Fire insurance arose in the 17th century, and other forms of property insurance became common with the spread of industrialization in the 19th century. It is now possible to insure almost any kind of property, including homes, businesses, motor vehicles, and goods in transit. See also casualty insurance; health insurance; liability insurance; life insurance.
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