On October 1, 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a trio of cases involving COVID-19 business interruption losses, in a series of written opinions with results favoring the insurers. Despite the slate of wins for insurers in this round of cases, these rulings are limited to cases where policyholders either did not allege the presence of COVID-19 on their premises causing “physical alteration” of the property itself, or had a virus exclusion in their policy, or both. This leaves room for future cases potentially ruling in favor of coverage where the insureds allege the presence of coronavirus on the premises, and that there was a detrimental physical alteration of the property as a result. To date, the Ninth Circuit has not ruled on such a situation.
RULING 1: Mudpie v. Travelers Casualty Insurance Co. of America
The Ninth Circuit first considered a proposed class action brought by a children’s store operator, Mudpie. Mudpie sought business income and extra expense coverage from Travelers after California and local authorities issued shutdown orders impacting Mudpie’s operations due to COVID-19. (Mudpie, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America, Case No. 20-16858, --- F.4th --- (9th Cir. Oct. 1, 2021).) Travelers denied coverage, asserting that the claim did not involve “direct physical loss of or damage to” property “caused by or resulting from a covered Cause of Loss.” Travelers also denied coverage under language excluding “loss or damage caused by or resulting from any virus…that induces…physical distress, illness or disease.” Applying California law, the trial court agreed with Travelers on both accounts.