The economic impact on small businesses due to COVID-19 is undeniable. Further, the uncertainty surrounding the length of the shut-down and the availability of funds for relief loans has left many business owners wondering whether the business interruption coverage in their commercial general liability policy will provide coverage to offset financial losses incurred. Politicians in Washington have asked insurers to justify the refusal to pay out claims, and already class action lawsuits are being filed around the country against insurance companies.
When assessing whether business interruption coverage in a commercial general liability insurance policy applies to economic losses caused by COVID-19, the answer is—it depends on the particular policy. Generally speaking, however, most business interruption clauses require the loss of business income to be caused by direct physical loss or damage to the property that prevents the business from operating. Although it appears the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces for up to five (5) days, it is doubtful that this phenomenon would qualify as direct physical loss or damage to the property or be of sufficient duration to trigger most insurance clauses. In addition, many commercial general liability insurance policies exclude coverage for losses caused by viral contamination.
On the contrary, it is possible that the specific wording and coverages in any particular policy may provide coverage. For example, businesses operating in the food service industry or the hospitality industry may have specific clauses in their respective insurance policies that relate to losses caused by viruses or alternative business interruption losses like event cancellations. Consequently, all business owners who have sustained financial losses due to COVID-19 are encouraged to examine their insurance contracts.
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