Court Concludes That COVID-19 Losses Can Qualify as “Direct Physical Loss”

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A federal district court found that COVID-19 can cause physical loss under business-interruption policies.

September 28, 2020
Lorelie S. Masters & Jorge R. Aviles - Hunton Andrews Kurth

In a victory for policyholders, a federal district court found that COVID-19 can cause physical loss under business-interruption policies. In Studio 417, Inc., et al. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co., No. 20-cv-03127-SRB (W.D. Mo. Aug. 12, 2020), the court rejected the argument often advanced by insurers that “all-risks” property insurance policies require a physical, structural alteration to trigger coverage. This decision shows that, with correct application of policy-interpretation principles and strategic use of pleading and evidence, policyholders can defeat the insurance industry’s “party line” arguments that business-interruption insurance somehow cannot apply to pay for the unprecedented losses businesses are experiencing from COVID-19, public-safety orders, loss of use of business assets, and other governmental edicts.

The policyholders in Studio 417 operate hair salons and restaurants asserting claims for business interruption. In suing to enforce their coverage, the policyholders allege that, over the last several months, it is likely that customers, employees, and/or other visitors to the insured properties were infected with COVID-19 and thereby infected the insured properties with the virus. Their complaint asserts that the presence of COVID-19 “renders physical property in their vicinity unsafe and unusable.” Unlike some other complaints seeking to enforce such coverage, it also alleges that the presence of COVID-19 and government “Closure Orders” “caused a direct physical loss or direct physical damage” to their premises “by denying use of and damaging the covered property, and by causing a necessary suspension of operations during a period of restoration.”

Reprinted courtesy of Lorelie S. Masters, Hunton Andrews Kurth and Jorge R. Aviles, Hunton Andrews Kurth
Ms. Masters may be contacted at lmasters@HuntonAK.com
Mr. Aviles may be contacted at javiles@HuntonAK.com



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