Business Interruption Policies and Coronavirus

A critical insurance for a business to hold but it won’t always help during the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak evolves, businesses face growing uncertainty as to how this pandemic will affect their operations long term.

This is especially true when you consider that many companies—including restaurants, retailers, and manufacturers—have had to close their doors or cease operations as a result of COVID-19. Not only has this severely impacted their ability to serve customers, but for some it has also led to indefinite disruptions that will impact their bottom line.

As a result of the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 brings, many businesses are turning to insurance, like business interruption insurance, for help.

In the event of a loss, business interruption insurance provides coverage for income a business would have earned had it been operating normally. It can also help pay for expenses like employee wages, taxes, rent, loan payments, and relocation expenses.

However, these policies are complex, and protection for losses stemming from COVID-19 is typically not included. This column highlights characteristics and types of business interruption insurance and examines why these policies will likely not cover the outbreak.

Designated Perils

Under most business interruption insurance policies, coverage is only available if the loss in question stems from a covered peril. In many cases, covered perils include common interruptions like natural disasters, equipment damage, and vandalism.

This means that, if the insurance policy requires a specific loss (e.g., a fire or earthquake) and the loss in question doesn’t qualify or is not stated explicitly, coverage may not be available. For most businesses, COVID-19 will not constitute a designated peril, and business interruption insurance will not respond to losses.

Further, business interruption claims may arise from multiple causes, including both covered and uncovered perils. In these instances, the availability of coverage will depend on the policy language and any applicable laws regarding concurrent causes. Once again, coverage for COVID-19-related losses is unlikely.

Direct Physical Losses

Business interruption insurance is typically triggered by a direct physical loss or damage. Under this interpretation, contagious diseases like COVID-19 would likely not count as a covered loss. This is especially true as it relates to mandatory or voluntary closures stemming from human-to-human transmission of infectious diseases where a business’ physical location is still habitable.

However, some argue that COVID-19 can contaminate physical objects like tools, equipment, and assembly lines, which in turn would force businesses to cease operations. In these scenarios, business interruption insurance could provide some protection. Still, most policy interpretations will make coverage unavailable. What’s more, most policies exclude coverage for viruses and other health crises altogether.

Civil Authority Coverage

In some cases, policies may extend business interruption coverage for losses that arise from civil authority orders. This essentially means that, if a business is unable to access its property due to government-mandated closures, coverage may be available.

However, in most cases, a direct physical loss to an adjacent or nearby property is required for civil authority coverage to kick in. For most insureds, civil authority clauses will not apply for losses stemming from COVID-19.

Contingent Business Interruption Insurance

Business interruption insurance is a crucial component of risk management programs, but it does not extend to disruptions to a third party. That’s where contingent business interruption insurance (CBI) comes in.

Unlike traditional business interruption insurance that compensates the policyholder for a loss resulting from damage to its own property, CBI lets businesses transfer the risk of certain losses to the property of a third party. CBI reimburses policyholders for lost profits and extra expenses resulting from an interruption of business at the premises of a customer, vendor, supplier, or other third party.

Businesses are increasingly looking to this type of coverage as COVID-19 continues to affect the global economy. This is because, even if a business is not located in an area where COVID-19 has been detected, aspects of their supply chain might be, leading to potential disruptions. However, for most cases, CBI will not be available.

With CBI, the covered third-party property may be specifically named, or the coverage may simply blanket all customers and suppliers. To secure coverage for COVID-19, insureds will have to review policy language to determine if their suppliers are included in the policy.

But even if the third party is explicitly named, CBI includes some of the same caveats as traditional business interruption insurance. Specifically, for CBI policies, some form of property damage will need to occur before coverage is triggered. Again, contamination will likely not constitute property damage.

Moving Forward

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, more organizations are looking to business interruption insurance, hoping it will respond to losses and help them weather the outbreak. However, COVID-19 is uncharted territory, and several factors will come into play when it comes to insurability. In most cases, business interruption policies will not apply to COVID-19 losses.

Moving forward, businesses should review their insurance programs to:

  • Ensure the policies they have in place provide sufficient protection.
  • Avoid overlooking unique exposures COVID-19 brings.
  • Determine how COVID-19 could impact their various lines of insurance beyond business interruption coverage.

More Information

Issues involving insurance can be complex, so it’s important to work with an insurance broker closely when selecting coverages. Contact one of the NGWA insurance partners to help you analyze your needs and decide on the right coverage for you and your business. Click here for more information.

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