In insurance, the insurance policy is a contract (generally a standard form contract) between the insurer and the insured, known as the policyholder, which determines the claims which the insurer is legally required to pay. In exchange for an initial payment, known as the premium, the insurer promises to pay for loss caused by perils covered under the policy language.
Insurance contracts are designed to meet specific needs and thus have many features not found in many other types of contracts. Since insurance policies are standard forms, they feature boilerplate language which is similar across a wide variety of different types of insurance policies.
Insurance contracts are generally considered contracts of adhesion because the insurer draws up the contract and the insured has little or no ability to make material changes to it. This is interpreted to mean that the insurer bears the burden if there is any ambiguity in any terms of the contract. Insurance policies are sold without the policyholder even seeing a copy of the contract.:27 In 1970 Robert Keeton suggested that many courts were actually applying 'reasonable expectations' rather than interpreting ambiguities, which he called the 'reasonable expectations doctrine'. This doctrine has been controversial, with some courts adopting it and others explicitly rejecting it. In several jurisdictions, including California, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, the insured is bound by clear and conspicuous terms in the contract even if the evidence suggests that the insured did not read or understand them.
Insurance contracts were traditionally written on the basis of every single type of risk (where risks were defined extremely narrowly), and a separate premium was calculated and charged for each. Only those individual risks expressly described or "scheduled" in the policy were covered; hence, those policies are now described as "individual" or "schedule" policies. This system of "named perils" or "specific perils" coverage proved to be unsustainable in the context of the Second Industrial Revolution, in that a typical large conglomerate might have dozens of types of risks to insure against. For example, in 1926, an insurance industry spokesman noted that a bakery would have to buy a separate policy for each of the following risks: manufacturing operations, elevators, teamsters, product liability, contractual liability (for a spur track connecting the bakery to a nearby railroad), premises liability (for a retail store), and owners' protective liability (for negligence of contractors hired to make any building modifications).
Declarations - identifies who is an insured, the insured's address, the insuring company, what risks or property are covered, the policy limits (amount of insurance), any applicable deductibles, the policy period and premium amount. These are usually provided on a form that is filled out by the insurer based on the insured's application and attached on top of or inserted within the first few pages of the policy.
In the United States, property and casualty insurers typically use similar or even identical language in their standard insurance policies, which are drafted by advisory organizations such as the Insurance Services Office and the American Association of Insurance Services. This reduces the regulatory burden for insurers as policy forms must be approved by states; it also allows consumers to more readily compare policies, albeit at the expense of consumer choice. In addition, as policy forms are reviewed by courts, the interpretations become more predictable as courts elaborate upon the interpretation of the same clauses in the same policy forms, rather than different policies from different insurers.