Event (noun). Only in the world of reinsurance could the meaning of the word 'event' be argued about by so many people for such a very long time. The remarkable financial potential of 'event' means that judges and arbitrators presiding over reinsurance disputes have spent thousands of hours deliberating on the intended meaning of this seemingly simple and innocuous little word. They have written acres of pages pronouncing what, exactly, constitutes an event. Plaintiffs' attorneys have become enriched by it, and insurers have paid (or, less frequently, made) a fortune because of it.

After all, some events are insured, while others are excluded. Mould, the preponderance of opinion avers, is not of itself an insurable event. (Lexicographers would concur that mould is not an event at all, although, arguably, the appearance of mould could be construed as an event. However, such unwanted extensions of opinion are the chief reason why the conventional lexicographical view is rarely sought when defining reinsurance terms.) It is not so much that mould is excluded, rather that insurance does not cover events which result in the walls going a funny blue-green colour under the wallpaper. Unless the mould grew because of an insured event.

Admittedly it is not the easiest of words. An event, according to the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, is "the occurrence of a thing, [or] the combined occurrence of two things." The dictionary's lexicographers could not have been more vague. Small wonder, then, that many hours of judicial time, millions of dollars in legal fees, and acres of paper are being expended trying to determine if the attack on the World Trade Center was a single event or two. Oxford would probably say it was the combined occurrence of two things, which is bad news for Mr Silverstein, and good news for Swiss Re. Unless they look at the larger New Oxford, which says an event is "a thing that happens or takes place." Just the one.

Normal events are strictly temporal. They start and they finish. Flood waters race in, drench your hand-me-down 1970s basement furniture, then dry up. But not in reinsurance, where, instead, the beginning and the end are not always clear. If a flood lasts for five days, it is a single event. If it lasts for more than a week, it is two events. Unless you bought your reinsurance from Swiss Re, in which case a flood event is "one and the same instance of high water which may have more than one peak and which may occur in one or more bodies of water." Helpful.

Lothar and Martin? Two events, the market decided. But were they? They were the result, possibly, of the same atmospheric disturbance. Surely one event then. I can find an expert who will testify to it. The Big Bang, anyone?

Event can be helpful when constructing more complicated jargon, such as Event Loss Trigger, a reinsurance technicality that allows reinsurers to assume that all the losses resulting from an event (or maybe from an occurrence, if the wordings man was having an especially creative day), occurred on the day of the beginning of the event, no matter what kind of primary coverage underlies the question (even if it is claims made). So, rather useful. But such uses of the word are fairly clear-cut, provided, that is, some agreement has been reached over the nature of the event, which is not always easy.

All in the definition
Is the existence of asbestosis an event? Or is it the contraction of an asbestos-related disease by a single individual that is the event? We may have opinions, but it is what others decide that is important. In a recent decision, a US State Supreme Court debated this question at length (considering, actually, the similarly bedevilling word occurrence, which New Oxford describes simply as "an incident or event", so we will not quibble). The infinitely wise Judge Gammerman rejected the greedy insured's contention that multiple claimant-employees' exposure to asbestos in products the company manufactured was a single occurrence triggering two decades-worth of excess policies. Another eventful day in the courthouse.