Who insures fire jugglers? Or wine tasters, or surgically enhanced erotic dancers? Chris Wheal delves into the far reaches of commercial lines.

For the ladyboy from Bangkok, it was a real dilemma. Poh Seelita was booked to appear at the Edinburgh Festival, but was scared to fly unless he could get his breasts insured. He feared the pressure in the plane’s cabin would cause his silicone implants to explode and that would mean he’d never work again. Step in a Lloyd’s broker and cover was arranged.

The 300-year-old market has a proud history of insuring body parts for individuals in unusual jobs. Jonathan Thomas, accident and health underwriter at the Watkins Syndicate, is an expert in the field. He recently insured the nose of Dutch wine grower Ilja Gort, owner of Chateau de La Garde in Bordeaux and producer of Tulipe Wines. Gort decided ‘

‘ his nose was his greatest asset, enabling him, at a sniff, to distinguish between a claret for laying down and a party wine. “The nose and sense of smell of a wine maker are as important as the fingers of a chef,” says Thomas.

Thomas has also insured the tongue of the head wine taster for Somerfield supermarket, the hands of models who advertise hand creams and washing-up liquids, and the feet of models who appear in shoe commercials.

“The proportion of their toes has to be exactly right – the second toe must not be longer than the big toe otherwise it is not aesthetically pleasing. If these people were to damage their feet they’d be unable to work,” he says.

Most body part policies are for individuals with high earnings. Another option is to offer enhanced benefits in standard accident and sickness policies for people who, for example, rely on their hands. In Italy a policy for surgeons and dentists has enhanced benefits to cover losing a finger, which could end their careers.

“Most people don’t actually need a specific body part covered but can benefit from a comprehensive accident and sickness policy. You might work with your hands but you also need to see, hear and speak, for example. Most people don’t realise they need accident and sickness policies and that is sad,” says Thomas.

But the holders of unusual jobs don’t just need insurance for their bodies. In these litigious days, they may need to protect themselves against other people trying to sue them. Insurer Hiscox has compiled a list of the weirdest professions it has covered (see box, above right).

Gary Head, director of business insurance at Hiscox, says the growth in weird jobs is partly down to the frenetic pace of our lives. “There are all these new professions such as life consultants, personal trainers and Feng Shui consultants. People are cash-rich and time-poor so they want all the added services,” he says.

It is also partly a case of people with more traditional jobs becoming aware of the risks they entail. “People who have probably been doing the same thing for years without insurance are suddenly realising they could be sued,” says Head. Indeed, that is the main risk he looks at – professional indemnity.

“You don’t have to have done anything wrong, but if a client is not happy with the outcome, he will sue. It is most important to get a professional adviser to help you respond and hold your hand in what would otherwise be a very stressful situation,” says Head.

Many claims never get to court or cost a penny in pay-outs because of the firm hand of the insurer’s expert guiding the defendant, but Head believes the number of claims is rising.

“There is an increasing trend to sue. We haven’t yet seen any material movement in our claims statistics, but I think the US trend where legal action is the first resort, not the last, is coming over here,” he says.

“If these models were to damage their feet they would be unable to work. But most people do not need a specific body part covered.

Jonathan Thomas, Watkins Syndicate

That means getting the underwriting right. “It is the consequential financial loss that we have to try to get our heads round. It won’t necessarily be a common occurrence but it may be big numbers. For example, an agricultural consultant gives incorrect advice to a client who runs several animal businesses. The result might be that some of the animals bred for sale were killed.

“Another example is an arbora-culturalist who advises a council on meeting its statutory biodiversity targets. He could face legal action if the council gets it wrong. And a vibration consultant who fails to spot something like the Millennium Bridge, which wobbled when people first walked on it and had to be closed and strengthened, could find himself on shaky ground.”

Brokers, too, are focusing on unusual jobs. East Anglia broker LRMS Insurance Services specialises in animal insurance but also offers unusual jobs cover. The jobs include pet sitters, dog walkers, pet behaviourists, dog or cat groomers, dog hydrotherapists and pet microchippers.

“Such jobs are becoming more and more popular because people love their pets,” says Anja Cancillon, managing director of LRMS, who launched this add-on to her business about five years ago. “The latest thing is pet photographers.”

Cancillon says many of the people doing these jobs are semi-professional. They are one-man bands and may be working only during school hours and doing something they love.

Public liability is an issue if a dog runs away from its walker and causes an accident. If the dog itself is injured, a vet’s bill can easily run to £2,000 – probably with the vet referring the hound to a hydrotherapist for three months of muscle-building swimming lessons.

But being sued by irate owners is the greatest risk. “Because we are in a blame culture, some claims are not really claims,” says Cancillon.

“We had one where a dog was left with a sitter, but ran off. He came back within an hour, but the owners cancelled their holiday because they said they did not feel comfortable leaving the dog with that person any more. They wanted the whole cost of the cancelled holiday and everything they had booked to do while they were away. We defended that from the start and nothing came of the claim.”

Such liability premiums are often as low as £100. One scheme is underwritten by Sterling Insurance. Cancillon says it is a small but growing niche for her business.

Welsh broker Rees Astley does a line in insuring performing artists. It ranges from acrobats and angle-grinding performers to whip crackers and wire walkers. In between are fire jugglers and eaters, knife throwers, sword swallowers and snake charmers. The scheme is underwritten by Fortis. It is sold to individuals through a website, Insurance4performingarts.co.uk, and marketed through the various trade bodies for performers.

Cancillon has also targeted trade bodies to promote her pet carers’ insurance. Hiscox’s Head says this is a key for brokers thinking of picking up business among those with more curious careers.

“Many of these people are unlikely to just walk through a broker’s door and ask for insurance,” he says. “The route to them might well be through affinity groups, and we’d certainly work with brokers wanting to explore that.”

Hiscox most bizarre jobs

Badger consultants: advising people how to get rid of badgers while staying within the laws that protect the species.
Dog psychologists: analysing the behaviour and characteristics of troublesome pups.
Feng Shui consultants: visiting offices and homes to ensure a harmonious environment.
Home economists: the behind-the-scenes chefs who prepare the kitchen for celebrity chef programmes.
Embalmers: more and more embalmers have appeared on Hiscox books.
Kosher certification consultants: advise on whether food is prepared in accordance with Jewish law.
Vibration consultants: advise on and correct vibration and noise problems for construction companies or manufacturers.
Painting authenticators: the teams who see through art fraudsters to differentiate between original and fake paintings.
Saddle consultants: for equine lovers who want to ensure they are having the most comfortable ride possible.