In a business interruption claim the insured has an obligation to mitigate its losses by reasonable means, but, as illustrated in Insured’s Duty to Mitigate – Understanding Business Interruption Claims Part 30, insureds should not be required to go out on a limb to protect the insurer and then get a hand slap in response.
A typical policy defines the duty to mitigate as follows:
The Insured has an obligation to incur any expense with the object of minimizing a loss hereunder, such expenses subject to prior agreement of Insurers being for Insurers account, provided that the loss is reduced as a result of such expenditure, and provided such expenditure is not recoverable from other policies taken out by the Insured. Insurers have the right to require the Insured to incur any expense which would reduce Insurers liability under this policy provided such expense is for Insurers account.
Metalmasters of Minneapolis v. Liberty Mutual, 461 N.W. 2d 496 (Minn. App. 1990) is an example of what can happen if the insured and insurer are not the same page with respect to mitigation costs.
Metalmasters manufactured precision computer disk drives and other small machine parts. A two-inch overhead pipe carrying water for cooling and air conditioning ruptured during the night and flooded Metalmasters’ shop. Metalmasters was shut for nine weeks, with partial production resuming after three weeks.
Metalmasters began using its clean rooms within four months after the water damage, but in order to produce a rust-free product (and protect its product from the water intrusion due to the pipe loss), Metalmasters incurred an additional expense of $4.90 for each of 15,500 spindle assemblies, totaling $75,590.
Unfortunately, Metalmasters was not able to recover $193,500 of loss of net sales during the nine week interruption period because Metalmasters was not able to show a loss in gross earnings since it had a buyer purchase all of its non-damaged goods. However, Metalmasters was able to recover the $75,590 as a mitigation cost under the Extra Expense provision of the policy, despite Liberty Mutual’s hard fight.
I am always tickled by case law that restates obvious principles and where the court’s frustration with one of the parties is apparent.
These additional production expenses were expenses of mitigation. Liberty cannot have it both ways. If, as they strenuously urge, the insured has a contractual as well as a common law duty to mitigate damages, then the expenses of that mitigation must be covered. If the mitigation efforts take longer than the interruption period, then the business interruption clause cannot limit coverage to that period, since the activity is in the interest of the insurer. In this case the expense continued beyond the four weeks during which the clean rooms were inoperable.
Mitigation is a duty the insured performs for the insurer’s benefit. Mitigation cost is recoverable so long as it is reasonable and less than the damages would have been without it. In this case the cost of mitigation is unquestionably less than damages would have been without the additional production expense.
Mitigation costs are generally recoverable under a range of coverages, but to avoid a Catch-22 situation where the insurer denies payment for mitigation efforts taken because they do not meet a certain definition under the policy, I suggest that after a business loss, the inusured or its representative openly discuss the insurer’s expectations with respect to mitigation efforts and how these costs should be presented for recovery.