Business Interruption Insurance: COVID-19 Plaintiffs Get a Win
We’ve previously blogged about the challenges facing companies trying to assert claims under business interruption policies for pandemic-related losses, and the early returns from court cases involving these claims weren’t encouraging. One of the biggest challenges that plaintiffs have faced is persuading insurers and courts that their claims involve “physical loss,” which is a necessity under most policies in order to trigger coverage.
However, Alison Frankel blogged about a recent decision by a federal judge in Kansas City involving claims against Cincinnati Insurance that gives plaintiffs some reason for hope — and may even provide a roadmap for these claims. Here’s an excerpt:
The Kansas City plaintiffs, unlike plaintiffs in some of the previous cases, argued that the coronavirus – as a widespread, airborne virus that was rampant in the community – had likely infected their properties. It was the presence of the virus, they argued, that had rendered their businesses unsafe and unusable, forcing the shutdowns that triggered their insurance coverage.
Cincinnati, represented by Litchfield Cavo and Wallace Saunders, argued that COVID-19 did not trigger business interruption insurance coverage because it did not cause tangible, physical damage like a fire or hurricane. The coronavirus, Cincinnati argued, can be cleaned from surfaces or will otherwise die naturally within days, leaving no physical trace. Moreover, the insurer argued, the salons and restaurants hadn’t even shown the virus was actually present within their properties.
Judge Bough, however, said that under the ordinary meaning of “physical loss,” the policyholders suffered a loss when the spread of coronavirus led to prohibitions or restrictions on their businesses.
In the Judge’s view, although the coronavirus may not have caused physical damage, the insurer’s business interruption policy also covered physical loss — and a business may suffer physical loss if its premises are rendered unusable. Here’s what Alison says is the key takeaway for potential plaintiffs:
Argue that your business was likely contaminated by the coronavirus as it spread across the country through unseen droplets – and that the presence of the virus led to a physical loss, even if the particles did not cause lasting physical damage.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net August 21, 2020
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