Ebola has become a worldwide crisis. It has ravaged Liberia and other West African countries. It has been diagnosed in Europe. And, cases are now being reported in the United States. While the cost to human life is astonishing, the financial cost of the disease is astounding as well, impacting the medical, transportation, chocolate, and other industries, as well as local municipalities. The potential cost of the crisis is already being measured in millions – if not billions – of dollars. Faced with 24-hour news reports about the risk of the infection, businesses are looking to their legal advisers and insurance brokers to determine whether they have adequate protection in case of an Ebola-related loss.
Ebola-related risks are far-reaching: What happens if an employee contracts Ebola? What happens if one or more business locations must be shut down for a quarantine period? What if costs must be incurred to sanitize that location(s)? What if offices or customers in an Ebola-infected region can no longer be reached? What if a supply chain depends on goods or services from such an area? And, for those in the medical industry or otherwise on the front-line of the crisis, what about the cost related to treating, caring for, or housing someone with Ebola?
These questions have spurred other concerns, such as will there be insurance coverage for any of these losses. Coverage for personal injuries, property damage, business interruption, and other anticipated Ebola-related costs may be available under a company’s existing insurance program. Here, as in all areas of insurance coverage, policy language matters. Companies should take a careful look at the specific language of their policies to determine whether they are adequately protected against Ebola-related risks.
Anticipating gaps in coverage, insurance companies are rushing to market new coverages for pandemics, such as Ebola. Just earlier this week, multiple reports of new Ebola-related business interruption coverage hit the news. These forms are untested, however, so it is not yet clear what protection is being offered for the price. Equally unclear is whether these new policies will duplicate coverage already available as part of a company’s current insurance portfolio.