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Die Hard and the importance of insurance

18 December 2020

Insurance is at the heart of modern life; and what better way to remind ourselves of this fact, at this festive time of year, than to consider the film Die Hard and all its many insurance claims.

There is an ongoing debate about whether Die Hard is genuinely a Christmas movie, but what cannot be in doubt is that Die Hard's underlying message is: "Get yourself a good broker, properly consider adequate risk mitigation measures and engage in detailed scenario planning".  

Lest we forget, the plot of Die Hard is that, on 24 December 1988, a gang of European terrorists (the Terrorists) enter the Nakatomi Tower (the Tower). They take the lift to the 30th Floor, where a Christmas Eve party is being held. After taking the party-goers hostage, the Terrorists proceed to hack into the Tower's computer system with the intention of entering a vault where US$650m in bearer bonds are stored. A lone operative, John McClane, resists the Terrorists at great personal cost and with much wanton destruction (the Event). After a couple of hours, the Event ends with the death of the Terrorists' leader, Hans Gruber.  

Throughout the film, insurance is the silent hero, never mentioned, but always present. In roughly chronological order, the Event triggers or potentially triggers the following policies: 

Employers Liability: Mr Ellis, a male employee of Nakatomi, continually invades the personal space of a female colleague, Ms Gennaro, and is reportedly seen snorting cocaine. Mr Ellis is an EL claim waiting to happen. Tragically, but in many ways fortuitously, Mr Ellis does not survive the Event.  

Life Assurance: A lot of life policies are triggered. Seriously, a lot.  It is not known if the Terrorists have group or personal life cover, but if they do there is a risk that there may be non-disclosure issues.   

Cyber: The Terrorists hack into the Nakatomi computer system. They are also involved in a phishing attack on Nakatomi executive, Mr Takagi, which involves pointing a gun at Mr Takagi's head and asking him for a passcode. Soon after the failure of this phishing attack, Mr Takagi's life assurance policy is triggered.

Event cancellation: The Christmas Eve party has to be prematurely terminated. This is symbolically represented by a Christmas tree falling over.

Business contents: Initially, there is substantial gunshot damage to tables, desks and computers. However, this is soon superseded by the complete devastation of the top three floors.

Bankers blanket bond: It appears that the main aim of the Terrorists is the theft of many thousands of bearer bonds totalling US$650 million. By the end, those bonds are either destroyed or are seen floating gently through the evening sky like snowflakes on Christmas Eve. 

Contractors All Risks: At the time of the Event, an internal fit-out is in process on the 32nd floor. Without sight of the contracts, it is not clear who retains responsibility for the insurance in this area. An initial assessment of the damage to the fit-out, however, suggests that it might be best just to start again.

Architects professional indemnity: A number of design failings become apparent during the Event.  Most notably, the glass in the internal divisions shatters into sharp shards and is clearly non-compliant, and the external glass panels break too easily, leading directly to the death of Mr Gruber. It is almost as though the choice of glass is purely to achieve dramatic effect. These failings will in due course require extensive remedial works to the external cladding.

Motor: A police car is written off and there is damage to a limousine and a van. The largest loss, however, is to an armoured vehicle owned by LAPD, which is annihilated by two missiles.

Business interruption: The FBI's flawed decision to switch off electricity to a whole district generates multiple BI claims. Thankfully, losses are limited due to the fact that the Event takes place late on Christmas Eve. Nakatomi's own BI losses will depend upon the efficacy of their business continuity plans.

Property all risks: There is significant damage to the ground floor and to the top three floors of the Tower. Significant damage. Really significant damage. In that quite a lot of it no longer exists.

Private medical: At the very least, John McClane's medical bills for his feet will be significant.

Kidnap & Ransom: Whilst hostages are taken, no ransom is ever requested. It is therefore unclear whether the K&R policy is triggered.

Aviation: The decision by the FBI to attack the Tower with helicopters proves to be a mistake.

Public sector: The FBI's and LAPD's laughably gung-ho incompetence results in multiple claims.  The one exception to this litany of inadequacy is Officer Al Powell, who shares some emotional moments with Mr McClane over a two-way radio and, in the end, rediscovers a touching ability for shooting people dead. 

Public liability: Lots of claims. Lots. Of. Claims. 

Fine art: It is LA in 1988. There is unlikely to be any fine art. 

Equine: It is LA in 1988. There are unlikely to be any horses. 

Terrorism reinsurance: The Event is initially reported as terrorism on television, but evidence appears to suggest that it is actually just a robbery. Terrorism reinsurers immediately reserve their rights. We can expect this one to go to court.   

Directors and Officers: There is likely to be a claim against Nakatomi's directors for wilfully and unnecessarily storing US$650m of bearer bonds in an office block in central LA.

Funeral plan: Ah yes, there may be aggregation arguments here.

Pet: Nakatomi Tower does not allow animals, so thankfully no pets are harmed during the course of the Event.

Home and contents: Ms Gennaro reports the loss of a Rolex.

Travel: In general, travel insurers watch on and breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, they face a claim for the repatriation of the Terrorists' bodies back to Europe, but it could have been so much worse. However, just as they consider closing their files, there are rumours of an event at Washington Dulles airport, also involving Mr McClane, in which travel insurance may play a much greater role…