A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the insurance focus (understandably) has been on business interruption and event cancellation coverage. Various other coverages are in play as well, given the types of COVID-19-related claims and lawsuits being filed (and that will be filed in the future) against corporate policyholders, from bodily injury due to exposure to the virus, to breach of contract, to securities violations, to misrepresentations and consumer protection violations, just to name a few. However, cyber risks are also highly salient for companies in this “new normal,” and companies must consider the role their insurance plays in preparing for and responding to those risks.
We have written much about business interruption coverage for losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and expect that those losses will continue to dominate the insurance landscape for the foreseeable future.
But, in recent weeks, another trend has emerged that will also significantly impact businesses: third-party lawsuits related to COVID-19 alleging causes of action ranging widely from negligence to wrongful death to false advertising to breach of contract to securities violations. In much the same way that businesses should evaluate coverage for lost profits, so, too, should those that face claims and lawsuits be prepared to seek insurance coverage for their defense and indemnity costs.
Over the past several weeks, news reports and their accompanying headlines have signaled what could be a pitched battle between policyholders and insurance companies over coverage for COVID-19 losses. One article noted that “insurance companies are facing political pressure to pay what could be a crippling sum of coronavirus-related claims—even though many of them say their policies don’t cover pandemics.” The headline of that article declared: “Insurers scramble to avoid 9/11-style coronavirus backlash.” Another piece described how the insurance industry had flatly rejected pressure from federal lawmakers “to pay out on business interruption claims from small businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.” Insurance companies are asking their governments to provide subsidies to cover the losses. Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that lawmakers in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have proposed legislation that would retroactively expand business interruption policies to cover losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In January, we were among the first to post on the insurance implications of coronavirus. Since then, the epidemic has landed on our shores, dragged down the stock market, and become a political football. It has affected supply chains originating in China, with significant results for companies like Apple. And it threatens business continuity in the U.S. It is important to remember that the threat to the economic cycle does not originate from financial forces like a tightening of credit, but in nuts-and-bolts workings of the manufacturing and service economy, where both bottlenecks in supply and a pullback in demand threaten markets. Some of these losses are insurable. This post reviews recent coverage developments and notes practical coverage considerations that companies might overlook.