UVA Law Professor Kenneth Abraham Honored for 'Four Conceptions of Insurance'

Kenneth Abraham

University of Virginia law professor Kenneth S. Abraham received the Liberty Mutual Prize for his paper, "Four Conceptions of Insurance."

February 27, 2013

University of Virginia law professor Kenneth S. Abraham received the Liberty Mutual Prize, given to the author of the year's best insurance law article, on Tuesday in Boston.

Abraham picked up the award for "Four Conceptions of Insurance," published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review this month.

The article identifies and explains four conceptions of insurance — contract, public utility/regulated industry, product and governance — to show underlying premises in debates about insurance law.

"It turns out that debates about reform often turn on, or even are predetermined by, what the advocates' conception of insurance is," Abraham said, adding that the article does not pass judgment on a particular conception.

"If you think insurance is a contract, then you look to the words of the insurance policy for the entire set of obligations it involves," he said. "But if you think insurance is a product that people buy the way they buy cars or computers, then you would look to see whether the insurance policy is in some way defective in order to determine what obligations it entails."

Abraham, the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, is one of the nation's leading scholars and teachers in the fields of torts and insurance law. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council of the American Law Institute. He has been a consulting counsel and an expert witness in a variety of major insurance coverage cases, involving directors and officers liability, environmental cleanup liability, toxic tort, products liability and property insurance claims.

Abraham said the article reflects insights developed over the course of his career.

"It's a big-picture piece," he said. "The ideas in the article have been percolating for a long time and I'm happy I got to set them down on paper and that they were recognized."

Abraham said he hoped the paper would help scholars and others in the field realize how their arguments are influenced by their conception of what insurance and insurance law entails.

"This kind of analysis can help us better understand what rights and obligations insurance law should involve, but ultimately we have to make the choices ourselves," he said. The prize was launched in 2008 by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Group to recognize and encourage exceptional articles in the law of property and casualty insurance, its regulation and corporate governance. Administered through the Boston College Law School, the prize awards $5,000 and an offer of publication if the paper has not already been published.

On Tuesday, Abraham delivered a lecture based on the article at Boston College and received the award from Sean McSweeney, senior vice president of Liberty Mutual Insurance.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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