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This article is about financial compensations. For the religious belief, see Indemnity (Unification Church).

An indemnity is an obligation by a person (indemnitor) to provide compensation for a particular loss suffered by another person (indemnitee).

Indemnities form the basis of many insurance contracts; for example, a car owner may purchase different kinds of insurance as an indemnity for various kinds of loss arising from operation of the car, such as damage to the car itself, or medical expenses following an accident. In an agency context, a principal may be obligated to indemnify their agent for liabilities incurred while carrying out responsibilities under the relationship. While the events giving rise to an indemnity may be specified by contract, the actions that must be taken to compensate the injured party are largely unpredictable, and the maximum compensation is often expressly limited.

Common law[edit]

Indemnity clauses[edit]

Under section 4 of the Statute of Frauds (1677), a "guarantee" (an undertaking of secondary liability; to answer for another's default) must be evidenced in writing. No such formal requirement exists in respect of indemnities (involving the assumption of primary liability; to pay irrespective of another's default) which are enforceable even if made orally. (Ref: Peel E: "Treitel, The Law of Contract")

Under current English law, indemnities must be clearly and precisely worded in the contract in order to be enforceable.[1] Under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 s4, a consumer cannot be made to unreasonably indemnify another for their breach of contract or negligence.

Contract award[edit]

In England and Wales an "indemnity" monetary award may form part of rescission during an action of Restitutio in integrum. The property and funds are exchanged, but indemnity may be granted for costs necessarily incurred to the innocent party pursuant to the contract. The leading case is Whittington v Seale-Hayne,[2] in which a contaminated farm was sold. The contract made the buyers renovate the real estate and, the contamination incurred medical expenses for their manager, who had fallen ill. Once the contract was rescinded, the buyer could be indemnified for the cost of renovation as this was necessary to the contract, but not the medical expenses as the contract did not require them to hire a manager. Were the sellers at fault, damages would clearly be available.

The distinction between indemnity and damages is subtle may be differentiated by considering the roots of the law of obligations: how can money be paid where the defendant is not at fault? The contract before rescission is voidable but not void, so, for a period of time, there is a legal contract. During that time, both parties have legal obligation. If the contract is to be voided ab initio the obligations performed must also be compensated. Therefore, the costs of indemnity arise from the (transient and performed) obligations of the claimant rather than a breach of obligation by the defendant.[3]

Distinction from guarantees[edit]

An indemnity is distinct from a guarantee, which is the promise of a third party to honor the obligation of a party to a contract should that party be unable or unwilling to do so (usually a guarantee is limited to an obligation to pay a debt). This distinction between indemnity and guarantee was discussed as early as the eighteenth century in Birkmya v Darnell.[4] In that case, concerned with a guarantee of payment for goods rather than payment of rent, the presiding judge explained that a guarantee effectively says "Let him have the goods; if he does not pay you, I will." [5]

Distinction from warranties[edit]

An indemnity is distinct from a warranty in that:[6]

  • An indemnity guarantees compensation equal to the amount of loss subject to the indemnity, while a warranty only guarantees compensation for the reduction in value of the acquired asset due to the warranted fact being untrue (and the beneficiary must prove such diminution in value).
  • Warranties require the beneficiary to mitigate their losses, while indemnities do not.
  • Warranties do not cover problems known to the beneficiary at the time the warranty is given, while indemnities do.


Indemnity insurance compensates the beneficiaries of the policies for their actual economic losses, up to the limiting amount of the insurance policy. It generally requires the insured to prove the amount of its loss before it can recover. Recovery is limited to the amount of the provable loss even if the face amount of the policy is higher. This is in contrast to, for example, life insurance, where the amount of the beneficiary's economic loss is irrelevant. The death of the person whose life is insured for reasons not excluded from the policy obligate the insurer to pay the entire policy amount to the beneficiary.

Most business interruption insurance policies contain an Extended Period of Indemnity Endorsement, which extends coverage beyond the time that it takes to physically restore the property. This provision covers additional expenses that allow the business to return to prosperity and help the business restore revenues to pre-loss levels.[7]

Historical examples[edit]

Freeing of slaves and indentured servants[edit]

Slave owners suffered a loss whenever their slaves or indentured servants were granted their freedom. Slave owners might have been paid to cover their losses.

When the slaves of Zanzibar were freed in 1897, it was by compensation since the prevailing opinion was that the slave owners suffered the loss of an asset whenever a slave was freed.

In the 1860s in the United States, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln had requested many millions of dollars from Congress with which to compensate slave owners for the loss of their slaves.[8] On July 9, 1868, Section IV of the Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment dismissed all of the claims that slave owners had been injured by the freeing of the slaves.[9]

In 1807-08, in Prussia, statesman Baron Heinrich vom Stein introduced a series of reforms, the principal of which was the abolition of serfdom with indemnification to territorial lords.[citation needed]

Haiti was required to pay an indemnity of 150,000,000 francs to France in order to atone for the loss suffered by the French slave owners.[10]

Costs of war[edit]

The nation that wins a war may insist on being paid compensations for the costs of the war, even after having been the instigator of the war.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sweigart, Raymond. "English Indemnity Law–Parsing the Promise: Words Are Important, But So Are Actions". Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  2. ^ (1900) 82 LT 49
  3. ^ Furmston, M, Law of Contract, ed11 (2001).
  4. ^ (1704) 1 Salk 27.
  5. ^ See also: Mountstephan v Lakeman (1871) LR 7 QB 196.
  6. ^ Wallace, Byrne (5 February 2010). "Warranties and indemnities: what’s the difference?". The In-House Lawyer. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Adjusting Today The Extended Period of Indemnity Endorsement
  8. ^ Lincoln, Abraham (December 1, 1862). Abraham Lincoln's Second Annual Message of 1862 (Speech). Presidential speech. Archived from the original on March 3, 2012. 
  9. ^ Fourteenth Amendment and related resources at the Library of Congress; National Archives (USA): 14th Amendment
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b Spence, Jonathan D. [1991] (1991), The Search for Modern China, WW Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-30780-8.