By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On April 14, 2020, several companies announced they are considering a class action lawsuit against Hiscox Insurance over its failure to pay business interruption claims relating to the coronavirus lockdown. Hiscox, sold policies before COVID-19 hit. The policies allegedly stated that they would cover claims related to businesses being forced to shut owing to a notifiable disease. Business owners have reportedly filed claims with Hiscox and other commercial insurance companies, only to be told that their policies don’t cover the losses related to the pandemic.
Pay Attention to the Policy Wording.
The company’s policy wording says business interruption claims can be made if a public authority makes the business premises unusable due to “an occurrence of any human infectious or human contagion disease.”
Hiscox claims the policy's coverage would only be triggered by "certain specific events at, or local to, the premises." The insurer said its policies were not designed to cover the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic. In a statement, the company said, “We understand that these are incredibly difficult times for businesses affected by COVID-19. At Hiscox, we strive to pay claims that are covered by the policies fairly and quickly. However, general business interruption policies across the industry, including Hiscox’s, were not designed to cover these extraordinary circumstances. Like terrorism and flood, which have government-backed insurance schemes, pandemics like coronavirus are simply too large and too systemic for private insurers to cover,” it added.
Business Interruption Insurance.
Business interruption insurance usually provides protection against the closure of business because of damage to property. Multiple “non-damage” extensions can be added to standard policies, including those for denial of access because of communicable disease. A communicable disease extension or addendum will typically cover losses arising from closure resulting from an outbreak of a virus or bacteria on-site or nearby.
Many policies' word also includes a defined list of diseases covered under the terms of the policy, which range from the SARS virus to smallpox. Others are less specific, offering coverage for any “notifiable disease” outbreak required by law to be reported to authorities. Additionally, sometimes communicable disease policy addendums contain exclusions, which state that an outbreak must have occurred on the business premises or within a defined vicinity.
The Problem With Policies?
The difficulty is that in the majority of cases, these policies cite “direct physical loss or damage” as a requirement to be triggered. Unfortunately, a quarantine, travel ban, shelter-in-place orders, or pandemic might make it impossible for a business to keep its doors open, but unfortunately may not constitute obvious "physical damage." So, if the wording fits, as far as the insurance company is concerned, it’s not their problem!
Hiscox denied the claims made against them and responded that the clause was designed to cover losses “solely and directly” from restrictions imposed by a public authority. It would not apply in this case because losses would have still occurred even if businesses had not been closed, because of the government-imposed lockdown.
Legal Issues For Insurance Policies.
There are several important points to remember when dealing with insurance policies and claims made to an insurer.
First, insurance is governed by state law, so interpretations and policy coverage requirements may differ from state to state. Always check your state's insurance laws and the cases that interpret them to see if the issue is governed by them.
Second, your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. Read the contract and see what it states. If it is vague or there is a doubt after you read it, you may have a good case. See the next step below.
Third, the insurance company wrote the policy. The insurance company had complete control over the wording of the policy. It was up to the insurance company to be definite and specific in what was covered or not covered. If there is doubt in the coverage that is provided in the policy, the courts will usually interpret this against the insurance company so as to provide coverage to the insured for the loss.
Fourth, when there is a problem with an insurance claim or a denied claim, immediately retain the services of one of the many attorneys who are experienced in suing insurance companies. These attorneys usually know what they are doing and will not charge you unless they obtain a recovery for you.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.
At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com
Croucher, Martin. "Insurers Face Legal Tests Over Rejected Pandemic Claims." Law360. (April 17, 2020). Web.
Croucher, Martin. "Hiscox Could Face Class Action Over COVID-19 Response" Law360. (April 14, 2020). Web.
Cox, Josie. "Coronavirus has exposed Britain's insurance industry as a shambles." The Guardian. (March 18, 2020). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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