Late last week, a Missouri federal district court provided a significant victory for insurance policyholders for COVID-19 losses. In Studio 417, Inc. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Company 6:20-cv-03127-SRB (W.D. MO, So. Div., Aug. 12, 2020), the Court was called upon to decide whether allegations involving the presence of COVID-19 in and around physical structures qualify as “direct physical loss or damage” to covered property. For those actively monitoring the COVID-19 insurance coverage litigation landscape, this has been a central question – and hotly contested debate – in virtually all first-party property and business interruption claims. Through a detailed and well-reasoned discussion, the Court answered the question with an emphatic “Yes.”
The Plaintiffs – a proposed class of hair salons and restaurants - purchased “all-risk” property insurance policies (the “Policies”) from Cincinnati. The Policies provide that Cincinnati would pay for “direct ‘loss’ unless the ‘loss’ is excluded or limited.” They also defined a “Covered Cause of Loss” as “accidental [direct] physical loss or accidental [direct] physical damage.” The Policies did not contain a virus exclusion. Anecdotally, Cincinnati has been vocal about the general lack of virus exclusions on its standard forms, having recently publicized that the company considers such exclusions “unnecessary” because, in its view, “a virus does not produce direct physical damage or loss to property.” From Cincinnati’s perspective, the insuring agreement is not triggered by these events, so there’s no need to analyze exclusions. Cincinnati relied heavily on that analysis in this case.
Reprinted courtesy of Gregory D. Podolak, Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C. and Christine Baptiste-Perez, Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C.