Lloyd's View of Me

JAMES A. MAXWELL has been a free-lance writer since his discharge from the army in 1945. This is his first appearance in the ATLANTIC.

There have been few experiences in the past several years which have lifted my spirits as much as reading my recently delivered accident-and-health policy from the underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, England. I don’t mean that I felt smug and secure, as the men with adequate protection do in insurance company ads. Instead, I suddenly saw myself — through Lloyd’s eyes — as a dashing, daring, devil-may-care fellow straight from an early Errol Flynn movie. For a man who has reached an age when changing his brand of cigarettes is a minor adventure and a simulated trip with one of Cinerama’s idiotic pilots leaves him emotionally exhausted for three days, this new, or perhaps merely reactivated, vision of himself makes any premium seem trifling.

I was especially surprised and delighted because I have had similar contracts with American companies, and perusing their documents had always left me depressed and filled with forebodings. To judge by the numerous escape — for them — clauses in their policies, the insuring institutions in this country believe that if I am incapacitated, the cause is likely to be something like drug or alcoholic addiction, wounds inflicted while holding up a gas station, or a concussion received while taking part in a civil insurrection. This unsavory portrait of me as a risk always seemed to be less the work of an actuary than of a tough parole officer.

Lloyd’s, too, has a list of activities in which I may engage only at the risk of breaching my contract, but the content is totally and flatteringly different from its American counterpart. I might add that Lloyd’s would have to fight me in every court in the land before I would permit a word to be deleted.

This section of the policy begins with the statement that Lloyd’s will assume no responsibility if the insured “willfully exposes himself to unnecessary danger or peril except in attempting to save human life.”

As soon as I read that handsomely phrased sentence, Lloyd’s concept of me began to emerge. “An essentially decent chap,” I could hear one underwriter saying to another, “but rather on the high-spirited side. Could use a bit of curbing, I’d say. Can’t have our policyholders climbing bridge cables on a dare or competing with a pal in parachute jumping. Likely to cost us a packet. Of course, we’d never be able to stop him from plunging through the ice to save a child or deter him from shooting it out with the Mafia crowd that had threatened a friend, so we had better give him some leeway there.”

But Lloyd’s is too concerned with my madcap tendencies to let me off with a simple, cautionary generalization. There are in the contract a number of specific prohibitions which, if ignored, will cause the underwriters to wash their financial hands of me.

For example, “cloud seeding, sky writing and crop dusting” are out for me, even as a lark. “Riding in races or steeplechases, whether on wheels or horseback” is similarly verboten.

I am certain that Lloyd’s normally operates on the basis of cold, hard actuarial facts, but in my case I feel that the intelligence reports have been something less than accurately assessed. Do the underwriters really believe that a man whose palms become damp every time the fastenseat-belt sign goes on in mid-flight is likely to be an enthusiast for aerial acrobatics or to enjoy flying ten feet above a potato patch at 150 miles per hour? And what myopic spy reported seeing me in Indianapolis on Memorial Day donning helmet and goggles and, later, in the paddock at Saratoga dressed in bright silks and slapping a riding crop against my boots?

All of the other interdictions in my policy are equally whimsical when compared with the actual pattern of my life. I hesitate to accuse as venerable an institution as Lloyd’s of being incurably romantic, but how else can I explain its worry that I will become its financial ward unless I agree by contract to abjure motorcycle racing? And certainly anyone who knows me even slightly could have assured an investigator that, if I ever make a claim against the institution, it will not be because of an accident which occurs when I am acting as a test pilot, as those dreamers in London apparently thought probable when they put the proscriptive clause in my policy.

Most of the time I am highly exhilarated by this curious image Lloyd’s has of me, but there are sober moments when I worry about a great financial institution — especially one which handles my money — functioning on the basis of such quixotic fancies.

This is not to imply that I live in a safe, secure world of cotton wool and that Lloyd’s is necessarily home-free with my premium payment. There are as many threats to my physical well-being as to the next man’s, assuming, of course, that the next man is not the one Lloyd’s had in mind when my policy was written.

The actual hazards in my life are unquestionably less glamorous than those envisioned for me, but in the interest of sound underwriting practice, I should like to cite a few of them to serve as a guide to London in the future.

There are, for instance, days when I am filled with a black hatred and defiance of all motorists. On those occasions, I stride boldly across the street when I have the green light and challenge the drivers who are turning the corner to violate the pedestrian’s inalienable right of precedence. Thus far, luck and lastmoment cowardice on my part have spared me serious injury, but there have been some close calls. Does Lloyd’s attempt to deter me from this foolhardy course? Of course not. The officers are too busy writing a clause into my policy which will absolve them from liability if I break a leg while climbing Mount Everest.

The underwriters seem equally unconcerned about my recklessness each time I take the Pennsylvania Railroad to New York. The roadbed between Trenton and Newark provides a major survival test for man and machine, and yet I always elect to dress and complete my toilet during this run. Pulling on a pair of trousers while standing in an insanely swaying roomette is obviously courting disaster. On three occasions I received nasty contusions and once, while in a storklike position on one leg, I was nearly pitched through the window, but some strange bravado makes me persist. This, Lloyd’s, is realism, worthy of actuarial consideration. Your anxiety about my explorations by air is not.

If the underwriters want to deal with facts and not vaporous fiction, they should also know that, despite substantial and dangerous evidence to the contrary, I remain convinced that my year in Mr. Howe’s physics class at Withrow High School qualifies me to repair any of the host of electrical appliances in our household. Further, when I am on a golf course, my mind does not immediately translate the shout of “Fore!” into “Duck!”

This, of course, is merely a bare sampling of the day-to-day perils in my life. I realize how drab they are now that I know what Lloyd’s expects of me, but a claim payment is a claim payment and a fall from a stepladder can be as expensive as a skiing accident in Switzerland. (Mishaps from “winter sports outside the limits of U.S.A. and Canada” are not covered by my contract.)

Frankly, however, I hope that Lloyd’s completely ignores my illadvised honesty when the policy is drawn up next year. What other great financial institution will pledge me, in a solemnly signed pact, to forgo “polo and riding to hounds on horseback unless specially agreed by underwriter and endorsed hereon.” There’s no such endorsement in my policy.

“Can’t give a chap like that an inch, you know,” I hear Brewster tell Higgenbottom as they discuss me in the London office. “I understand he spares neither himself nor his mounts to maintain his ten-goal rating and to be first at the kill. Superb horseman, of course, but still a bit chancy for us.”

Such dreams are rarely available at the modest annual premium I pay.