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An Insurance Agent Explains How Insurance Would Work in Superhero Movies

I mean, someone owns that car that the Hulk just smashed

Mr. Delmar isn’t a superhero, nor is he a villain. He’s just a hard-working neighborhood guy who happens to make the best sandwiches in Queens. Yet, in 2016, despite his lack of affiliation with the forces of good or evil, Delmar found his beloved deli decimated thanks to a conflict between Spider-Man and some bank robbers.

That was during Spider-Man: Homecoming, but in the new Spider-Man: No Way Home, we see that Delmar’s Deli-Grocery is back up and running, presumably still making the best sandwiches in Queens. But how did Delmar manage to rebuild? While I’m guessing he had insurance, did his plan cover his deli being blasted away by an alien laser-weapon? Not to mention, it’s a little tough to tell who’s at fault in the destruction. Sure, the bank robbers are using alien tech leftover from the invasion in Avengers, but they were sold those weapons by another criminal element led by Michael Keaton’s Vulture. In fairness, too, Spidey’s fight with the robbers doesn’t go smoothly, and he’s probably at least a little bit responsible for the deli being blown up. So, who exactly is to blame? And, more largely, how would insurance work in superhero movies?

“Around the office, superhero movies have been discussed quite a few times, and someone always says that they can’t watch those movies without looking at the property damage,” says New Hampshire-based insurance broker Randy A. MacArthur Jr. “When you’re in the insurance industry for a while, it’s really hard to watch one of those movies without thinking about how someone’s family and livelihood would be impacted by the destruction. Or to think things like, ‘That’s not covered. That’s definitely not covered. Is that considered terrorism?’”

Terrorism, MacArthur notes, might be how much of the destruction in these movies would be defined by insurance agents. Take, for example, the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie. “In my mind, an alien invasion would be considered an act of terrorism, and there is a thing called ‘terrorism insurance’ that would cover your property,” MacArthur tells me. “Since 9/11, terrorism insurance is very common, and you actually have to opt out of terrorism insurance not to get it. It usually comes standard. Still though, a lot of people decline it. It’s pennies on the dollar, but when you’re a small business, every dollar helps and, of course, no one thinks it’ll happen to them.”

Even if you have terrorism coverage, though, there’s a catch. “The incident has to be deemed a certified act of terrorism by the government,” MacArthur says. The reason for that is because the fund to pay out for terrorism coverage is with the federal government, and if they don’t officially call it terrorism, it’s not terrorism.

There’s also the possibility that an alien invasion could be considered an act of war as opposed to an act of terror. While terrorism can be an act of war, MacArthur says that, “If something is seen as a certified act of war, that’s not covered. Invasion, insurrection, revolution and coups aren’t covered.” And, as far as he knows, there is no such thing as “war insurance.”

But not every superhero movie deals with some sort of alien invasion. Much of the time, it’s an experiment gone wrong. In Spider-Man 2, Doctor Otto Octavius is altruistically trying to come up with a renewable energy source, and it just goes really, really poorly — quickly, he goes mad and wreaks havoc on the city. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony Stark is trying to create Ultron as a force for good, but the robot malfunctions and starts fucking things up all over the globe. In those kinds of situations, terrorism and war don’t really apply. Instead, if you were hurt by Doc Ock or Ultron’s respective reigns of terror, MacArthur says that any damage caused from those events might be covered under the general liability coverages both Doc Ock and Tony Stark ostensibly have. 

With Ultron in particular, there was a shit-ton of damage — particularly to the Avengers tower and the fictional country of Sokovia — so what happens if there’s so much damage that a company can’t afford to pay out? MacArthur says that there’s an “insolvency fund” that all the major insurance carriers contribute to in each state. So, even if Tony Stark’s insurer were to fold under all the Ultron lawsuits, the victims who sued him should still be able to get paid out. Er, at least, the domestic victims would get paid out that way. As for Ultron’s overseas victims, MacArthur says that might have to get sorted out by the respective countries.

As for a straight-up act of crime, like what happened with Delmar in Spider-Man: Homecoming, MacArthur says that he’s likely covered by his run-of-the-mill property coverage, with the damage probably being considered vandalism. So, Delmar would simply file a claim, and it would presumably be covered. On the back end, however, his insurance company might go after the bank robbers — assuming they could be identified — as well as Michael Keaton’s character for supplying them the weapons to begin with. They might even go after Spider-Man if the security tapes reveal that he made a situation worse by interfering (which he totally did).

“All of these situations would be worked out in claims,” says MacArthur, because, really, every event is going to differ. “For the most part though, each situation will go back to the ‘cause of loss.’” The “cause of loss” is really the beginning or trigger of the given event. With Delmar’s deli, the cause of loss would likely be deemed to be the ATM heist by the robbers, so the robbers would probably be deemed as responsible. Even for enormously complex situations like the Battle for New York in Avengers, the alien invasion itself would be the cause of loss, so it probably wouldn’t matter if the Hulk threw your Honda Civic at an alien, it would still be the alien’s fault. All that being said, your insurance company could still try to sue the Hulk later because, as MacArthur says, “Anybody can sue anybody for anything.”

Of course, all of this is theoretical because it’s using our reality’s view of insurance. Applying it to a world jam-packed with superheroes, supervillains, alien invasions and all kinds of other weird shit might yield different results. But were there really some kind of superhero incident that occured in our world, it would immediately change the insurance industry. After 9/11, a federal fund compensating for terrorism became a reality. During COVID-19, insurance companies began including specific exclusions so that a pandemic wouldn’t be covered. And if, suddenly, there were superheroes, MacArthur says that it wouldn’t take long for the entire insurance industry to be rewritten with that in mind. “The first time a superhero event caused damage, the insurance company would likely pay out, but after that, you’d start seeing exclusions for superhero events.”

Or, on the other hand, you might see insurance catered to specific superheroes. “I saw a parody video once about an insurance agent in the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. She was talking to a member who happened to have insurance for damage caused by the Hulk, but not for damage caused by one of Hawkeye’s arrows. I could see it coming down to that if we really had superheroes.”

While all of this is theoretical, MacArthur says that there is one guarantee you could definitely count on if superheroes suddenly appeared in our world: Our insurance premiums would skyrocket, especially if you lived in a city where a superhero lived. Yeah, that would suck, but it’s probably not that surprising given the enormous complexities of living in such a world. To this, MacArthur just shrugs and says, “That’s insurance companies for you.”