One of the threshold issues in COVID-19 insurance coverage cases that have been brought across the country is whether the policyholder’s allegations meet the applicable pleading standard in alleging that the virus caused physical loss or damage. In many cases, the courts have gotten it wrong, effectively holding policyholders to a higher standard than required. But recently, a California federal judge righted those wrongs by acknowledging the correct pleading standard in that case, which is whether the allegations state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The Court, here, correctly recognized that the policyholder, the Los Angeles Lakers, met that pleading standard when it alleged that the COVID-19 virus can cause physical loss or damage by physically altering property.
In its complaint, the Los Angeles Lakers alleged that the virus physically altered its property by changing its chemical and physical property conditions, creating viral vectors that required remedial measures before the property was safe again. Los Angeles Lakers, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 591 F. Supp. 3d 672 (C.D. Cal. 2022), adhered to on reconsideration, 2022 WL 16571193 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 26, 2022). The Court agreed that these allegations by the Lakers adequately pled physical alteration to support a claim for property damage. The insurer requested reconsideration of the decision, and the Court emphatically affirmed its prior decision, explaining its rationale as follows:
The Court lacks the scientific expertise necessary to conclude, based solely on the allegations in the FAC . . . that it is not plausible for the Lakers’ property to have been physically altered by the Virus, which the Lakers adequately alleged. Consequently, the Court, in the March 17 Order, concluded that the Lakers’ theory was plausible. Whether the Lakers can actually prove its theory will be determined at summary judgment or trial.