Insurers across the country are nearly universally denying claims for business interruption stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Those denials have in turn been met with swift litigation and potential legislative action. The first business interruption coverage lawsuit related to COVID-19 was filed in New Orleans on March 16. There are now no less than 13 such cases nationwide and many more are likely to follow. Further, legislatures in at least seven states are considering legislation that would, to varying degrees, mandate business interruption coverage for COVID-19 losses, notwithstanding any seemingly contrary policy provisions.
From the early stages of the pandemic, we have consistently advised our clients to promptly notify their insurers of all COVID-19 related losses, even where coverage appeared uncertain. The deluge of coverage litigation and contemplated legislation could drastically alter how insurers handle COVID-19 claims. But policyholders who have failed to satisfy policy notice requirements could miss out on the benefits of those changes. Therefore, policyholders would be ill-advised to sit on the sidelines and wait it out.
Now, draft Federal legislation appears to add further impetus to instructions to “tender early.” The contemplated “Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020” would reportedly devote billions of dollars of federal funds through a Department of Treasury administered reinsurance program designed to offset losses sustained by insurers who actually pay business interruption losses. The legislation is still taking shape but would reportedly create “a Federal program that provides for a transparent system of shared public and private compensation for business interruption losses resulting from a pandemic or outbreak of communicable disease.” President Trump is also reportedly pressuring insurers to provide business interruption coverage. The massive influx of federal funds and pressure from the White House could encourage insurers to reconsider denials of COVID-19 business interruption claims.