To date, approximately 150 business-interruption insurance coverage lawsuits have been filed in federal courts arising from COVID-19 and related government-ordered restrictions. In what appears to be the first substantive ruling on the merits in these cases, the Southern District of New York recently ruled against an insured who could not meet its burden to show a likelihood of success in establishing “property damage” due to the novel coronavirus to support its claim for injunctive relief. See Social Life Magazine, Inc. v. Sentinel Ins. Co., 1:20-cv-03311-VEC (Dkt. 24-1, S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2020). Judge Caproni expressed sympathy “for every small business that is having difficulties during this period of time,” but concluded that “New York law is clear” in requiring actual property damage to trigger business interruption coverage. Because the insured’s coverage theory rested on a government shutdown in the absence of any property damage, the Court denied its preliminary injunction motion, reasoning “this is just not what’s covered under these insurance policies.”
In the bellwether case of Joseph Tambellini, Inc. v. Erie Insurance Exchange, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was petitioned under its King’s Bench powers to assume plenary jurisdiction of an insurance coverage dispute that had been filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The high court was asked to decide critical legal issues that would have impacted thousands of other insurance claims that might arise in the future from the COVID-19 pandemic. Duane Morris was retained by insurer trade associations, including APCIA, NAMIC, PAMIC, and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania (the “Insurance Industry Amici”), to oppose this extraordinary petition. Continue reading Duane Morris Helps Insurance Industry to a Major Win on COVID Losses for Business Interruption Before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
We previously wrote about the growing number of lawsuits by insureds seeking business interruption insurance coverage for business losses in response to the novel coronavirus (here and here), and the constraints that state and federal governments should face were they to compel such coverage. We also previously detailed nationwide efforts aimed at enacting legislation compelling business interruption and contingent business interruption insurance for COVID-19 losses.
As of the date of this update, eight states have proposed a number of bills relating to business interruption insurance. Continue reading An Update on Congressional Efforts to Compel Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance
As the coronavirus cases start peaking in at least some parts of the United States, the American courts are beginning to experience mounting cases relating to claims against businesses for coronavirus infections and against insurers for alleged business interruption coverage. A few weeks ago, some well-known restaurants in the United States commenced litigation against their insurers over claims for insurance coverage stemming from business interruption. These individual cases will raise a number of issues whether there is direct physical loss to covered property and whether the virus exclusions in the policies bar coverage. As a host of other types of businesses have followed by filing a number of individual suits in several states against their insurers. Last week, however, a new form of litigation has been filed with multiple class action insurance coverage lawsuits being brought by alleged representatives against single insures who are claimed to have written business interruption policies to a number of businesses in given areas or nationwide. Continue reading Coronavirus Business Interruption Litigation Ramping up to Include Several Class Action Suits Against Single Insurers
As we wrote earlier this week, legislators continue their efforts to address the enormous cost of business continuity losses. Most recently, Representative Mike Thompson of California, introduced H.R.6494, labeled the “Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Act of 2020”. Continue reading Congress Proposes Bill for Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance Coverage
We previously wrote about the growing number of lawsuits by insureds seeking business interruption insurance coverage for business losses in response to the novel coronavirus and ways that state and federal governments were beginning to consider ways that they might compel such coverage.
The potential cost of business continuity losses is enormous. The Congressional Research Service issued a report to Congress on the financial impact to insurers for the cost of covering business interruption claims. The report explains that some industry sources estimate that the cost of covering business interruption claims ranges from $110 billion to $290 billion per month. In a more recent letter, insurance industry leaders explained, “recent estimates show that business continuity losses just for small businesses of 100 or fewer employees could amount to between $220 billion to $383 billion per month. Meanwhile, the total surplus for all of the U.S. home, auto, and business insurers combined to pay all future losses is only $800 billion.” Continue reading Lawmakers Continue Efforts to Compel Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance
We previously wrote about the growing likelihood that insurance companies would face claims for business interruption and contingent business interruption insurance claims as their insureds looked to cope with the broad effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak and response. Heating Up: New Orleans-Based Oceana Grill Seeks Insurance Coverage for Coronavirus-Caused Business Interruption. Now, state and federal governments are beginning to consider ways that they might compel such coverage.
Last week, members of the federal government wrote to insurance industry leaders urging them to expand commercial business interruption coverage for COVID-19 losses. In response, the insurance industry leaders replied, “Standard commercial insurance policies offer coverage and protection against a wide range of risks and threats and are vetted and approved by state regulators. Business interruption policies do not, and were not designed to, provide coverage against communicable diseases such as COVID-19.” Continue reading Statutes Compelling Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance Should Face Constitutional Constraints
by Max H. Stern and Jessica E. La Londe
A key issue that many insurance companies will face in the upcoming weeks and months is whether their policies provide coverage for policyholders’ business interruption losses from the COVID-19 crisis. This is not merely an academic question: the first coverage case on this issue was filed in Louisiana this week (Cajun Conti, LLC, et al. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London, et al.) and legislatures are already considering legislation that may significantly impact the insurance industry (see New Jersey’s proposed legislation on insurance coverage for COVID-19 business interruption claims and letter from members of Congress to insurer trade groups encouraging the acceptance of business interruption coverage for COVID-19 losses).
As in every case, whether there is coverage for these losses will depend, in the first instance, on the policy language, which must be looked at closely. The applicable law and specific facts will add layers of complexity to the issues. Based on our experience with advising on and litigating coverage for business interruption losses, some of the following issues may be in play.
First, insurance companies will have to determine if the policy provides business interruption coverage at all (either in the policy form or by endorsement) and then whether the loss falls within the relevant scope of coverage. This may include, for example, whether the timing of the business interruption loss triggers coverage (often, the business interruption must “commence” during the policy period) and whether the coverage applies when the source of the business interruption is unrelated to the policyholder’s property.
Second, some business interruption coverage may contain exclusions that apply to the losses suffered because of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, in 2006 ISO adopted a “virus” exclusion for business interruption coverage (as a result of previous virus outbreaks, including SARS). Other types of specialty policies may provide coverage that extends business interruption coverage to pollution or biological contamination, but they may be subject to communicable disease exclusions or other limitations.
Third, in our experience, novel business interruption claims need to be closely examined with respect to the nuts of bolts of the requirements for business interruption coverage, such as:
– Issues of proof, such as demonstrating the exact amount of loss over and above expenses, taxes, etc. that would have been incurred;
– Whether business interruption loss applies when there is a complete and total loss (as opposed to a mere “interruption”);
– The point at which true business interruption begins and ends;
– Notice/reporting issues; and
– Deductible/self-insured retention and policy limits issues.
The potential coverage issues in COVID-19 business interruption claims are varied and complex and may benefit from experienced coverage counsel.