A law firm in New York was without power prior to Superstorm Sandy making landfall. The reason for the power outage was because the utility company preemptively shut down power for several days prior to the storm as it anticipated there would be significant pre-storm flooding. The insured premises sustained no flooding or physical damage during the storm. However, the law firm made a claim under its commercial insurance policy for loss of business income and extra expense as the office building was without power from October 29, 2012 through November 3, 2012. During that time period, there was no electricity or elevator service in the building.
I spoke in Manhatten yesterday at the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants. The presentation was Superstorm Sandy: Many Causes, Many Losses—Is Your Business Income Loss Covered? I bet you’d imagine that a nerdy insurance attorney presenting to nerdy accountants would seem to make for a very dry event.
Many businesses in the Northeast have had their business interruption claims denied because they did not have flood insurance. Flood damage is typically excluded from most commercial property policies, but businesses sustained many other types of losses that should be covered under most commercial policies despite the flood damage and lack of flood insurance.
What’s more disheartening than seeing your business destroyed by an unexpected catastrophe? – Being informed that your insurance company will not pay a dime. Business owners in the City are receiving letters from their insurers denying coverage for the damages caused on October 29, 2012. Denial letters cite policy language to the effect:
Many New York business owners have been denied insurance recovery based on causation issues (i.e., property damages and business income losses were caused by flood which is excluded under most policies). However, many insurance policies provide a measure of coverage and recovery through Civil Authority and Ingress/Egress provisions, which are not triggered by damages at the insured premises. Given the mandatory evacuation orders issued by the governors of New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut, insurance companies should evaluate potential coverage for business income losses under these additional coverage provisions.
Many businesses in New York and New Jersey are still recovering from closure or slow down after Hurricane Sandy devastated the region. Insurance companies are issuing payments for business income losses under standardized formulas where recovery may look as follows:1
I have reviewed denial letters sent to policyholders in New York and New Jersey. Their business income claims have been denied because the “physical loss or damage” was caused, in whole or in part, by an excluded peril – power failure. Hurricane Sandy was a complex windstorm event that caused many perils – power outages, fire, flood, explosion and wind are among the most prevalent. Some of these perils may or may not be covered by an insurance policy, but if an insured property sustained damages caused by at least one covered peril, business income claims should not be denied.
On the night of October 29, 2012 the “kings of the hill” in New York knew that they would not be waking up to a City that Never Sleeps. In fact, the lights were out for weeks and the businesses that were at the top of the list – now have to make a brand new start of it.
Hundreds of thousands of businesses were affected in one way or another by Hurricane Sandy. The insurance industry estimated over $20 billion dollars in business income losses. Many have presented insurance claims for their lost profits that have been denied because the business was not completely “shut down” or it did not sustain “direct physical damage” from the storm. But the insurance company’s inquiry should not stop there, and businesses should ask for a complete evaluation of coverage under their policies.
Hundreds of thousands of businesses are still struggling to repair the damages caused by Super Storm Sandy. In New York, claimants will be told that their policies only cover business income losses during the period of time that it would take a “reasonable business” to return to its pre loss operational performance and that repairs shouldn’t take this long. The measuring stick in New York, however, is not as rigid and it considers the actual facts and circumstances that affect the rebuilding or repair efforts.