School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Queen's offers $35,000 fellowship in insurance law

Erik Knutsen

By Anthony Pugh, Nov 2015

Photo Left: Professor Erik Knutsen will supervise the incoming doctoral student selected for the insurance law fellowship

PhD applicants to Queen’s Law who wish to study insurance law will be eligible for a $35,000, three-year fellowship under the supervision of Professor Erik Knutsen. This fellowship includes a $30,000 scholarship and a $5,000 Research Assistantship. The area of study will be on a topic related to Knutsen’s SSHRC-funded research project “Floods, Fires, Crashes: Resolving Post-Disaster Insurance Coverage Conflicts in Canada.”

During his time in private practice, Knutsen saw the problems of unpredictability when generic insurance policy provisions are applied to real-life losses. He says that this unpredictability is “difficult for insurers and policyholders alike” and can result in unfairness and costliness for accident victims. This is especially true for claims arising from large-scale catastrophes. For example, many families impacted by the 2013 Alberta floods had uncertain insurance coverage because their policies defined the word “flood” in unsuspecting ways.

“My work involves exploring the boundaries of what insurance law is and should be,” he says. “The new project aims to be a major Anglo-American work on the law of insurance policy interpretation.”

Knutsen and the fellowship holder will use comparative legal research from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom to create a new framework for understanding the subject. Knutsen intends to use this framework to recommend reforms to insurance policy interpretation principles so that disputes reach a fairer, more predictable, and more commercially sensible resolution. The research may also prompt insurance companies to deliver fairer and more efficient products so average readers can better understand their own polices.

The successful PhD applicant will have an opportunity to work intensively on a comparative law project in an academic field that is largely untapped in Canada. Knutsen says the field is exciting because it is so “wide open” and because “there is room for creativity and thinking outside-the-box.” The student will engage directly with theoretical issues to develop the new insurance law framework by directly engaging with theoretical accounts of insurance law, contract law and tort law. Knutsen says this work will be especially valuable to students interested in pursuing a career in academia. Furthermore, the student will have the opportunity to co-present findings and to present his or her own research to Canadian and international academics and practitioners. This contact will expand the junior researcher’s professional network.

As Knutsen says, “Insurance is pervasive in Canadian society.” Now, his new project will give a doctoral student a unique opportunity to better the ways in which insurance law affects the lives of Canadians.