As Barack Obama appoints an Ebola czar, the Ebola virus continues to develop in real time, with confirmed cases now in the United States. As such, U.S. employers (and not just those in the health care industry) are asking, “What if?” The answer is as complex as the virus itself – especially when the applicability of insurance coverage is questioned. It is a complex effort to identify whether or not insurance may apply, be it through Workers Compensation, Employment Practices Liability, Property, General Liability, Professional Liability, or some combination of coverages. But, it is an effort that must be undertaken immediately to ensure businesses are educated as to how their risk management program can potentially address the Ebola outbreak.
Although the “What if” questions are seemingly endless, there are two main areas of concern for most businesses: personnel risk and an interruption of business operations. Here, we briefly address two common questions we are being asked by our clients:
Q. What if an employee contracts Ebola while on the job?
This risk is not limited to health care workers, so all industries should be considering this question. Take for example a drywall contractor working on site at a hospital, or any other type of worker who comes into contact with anyone infected with the virus while on the job. If any employee contracts the virus from co-workers who have been infected outside of work, their claim would be compensable under Workers Compensation as long as the injury is a direct result of their employment. There is a strong argument for Workers Compensation for health care related workers, but for other occupations, if there was an allegation of the employer’s negligence in not protecting the employee, we may need to look to the Employers Liability policy for coverage. Injury as a result of contracting Ebola on the job would be considered an Occupational Disease and would be subject to a per employee deductible/retention if on a loss sensitive program.
Q. In the event of an Ebola scare or a confirmed case, what coverage do I have if operations are shut down?
Coverage for loss of revenue during a shutdown of your operations due to Ebola would not be covered under a typical Property policy since coverage under this policy is typically triggered by direct damage to covered property by a covered cause of loss. Since there is no direct damage and the presence of a communicable disease or virus is not a covered cause of loss, no coverage would apply. However, some Property policies written for health care organizations do provide limited business interruption coverage due to the impairment of operations from the requirements of a governmental health authority having issued an order regarding an outbreak of a specific communicable disease at a scheduled premise.
Similarly, there are limited Pollution Liability policies that under very limited circumstances might provide business interruption coverage to a health care organization resulting from an Ebola incident.
New, limited specialty products may also be available in niche markets to provide business interruption coverage for Ebola and other pandemics as some are looking to meet a current market need in the near term. On the other hand, some insurance carriers are beginning to exclude coverage for Ebola claims outright going forward.
The short answer to these and other “am I covered” questions that might extend to liability, employment practices, and the like is, “it depends.” In order to adequately assess the likelihood that your risk management program would provide coverage for losses related to Ebola, your broker should be examining all of your policies to determine what is covered under each insurance policy. Now is the time to be proactive about analyzing your risk management program to determine the insurance implications of a potential Ebola claim.
CDC Ebola Home Page
CDC Ebola Fact Sheet
World Health Organization Global Alert and Response
World Health Organization Ebola Webpage
What do you need to know about Ebola