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Vol. 3, Iss. 15
November 5, 2014

The Real Ebola Epidemic: Insurance Articles

Look, coming down with Ebola is definitely not on my to-do list. I’d even rather clean out the garage than catch it. I don’t want to minimize this potentially deadly illness. And the suffering by those afflicted is horrendous, as Saturday’s Wall Street Journal cover story made clear. But despite all this, I’m not sure that this recent headline in Insurance Journal was necessary: “12 Articles on Ebola Risk and Insurance.” The IJ story went on to link to these dozen offerings, with such titles as: “Various Insurance Lines Could Potentially Be Affected by Ebola;” “Some Insurers Exclude Ebola; Others Offer New Products;” and “Aon Activates Ebola Response Task Force, Launches Ebola Response Room.” And these dozen aren’t the only Ebola-insurance articles that have been written. [I would love to see what AON’s “Ebola Response Room” looks like. If it has a day old chicken salad sandwich in it then it’s creating a greater likelihood of bodily injury than Ebola.]

Here is a gem from the article about various insurance lines potentially being affected by Ebola: “Injuries that could have been expected are excluded. Carriers may argue that any prudent person would have known there was an increased exposure to Ebola.”

A recent Business Insurance story had this eye-roller: “People contracting Ebola on an airliner or at a hotel or sports venue might sue companies involved, alleging negligence for failing to prevent their exposure. A company would expect its general liability insurers to respond, but there could be coverage disputes, experts say. One could involve general liability policies’ pollution exclusion, which typically bars claims arising from any ‘solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant,’ including waste.” If I went to a Lakers game, and contracted Ebola from the guy sitting next to me, I’d be hard-pressed to see the Lakers being liable for not conducting Ebola screenings at the front door. And the pollution exclusion’s applicability to Ebola?

Some are arguing that if you spell Ebola as E-bola, then it could be covered under a cyber liability policy.

To date, two people have contracted Ebola while in the United States. Two people. Total. And it was hardly random – they were nurses who treated an Ebola patient (and perhaps under deficient hospital protocols). Nonetheless, more than a dozen articles have been written about Ebola risk and insurance – some addressing claim scenarios that remind me of that annoying guy in my Torts class who would pose the most outlandish hypotheticals.

Insurance companies are in the business of identifying, and responding to, future risks. And insurers that are considering Ebola’s potential implications on their existing lines of business, especially where this is a legitimate possible link, are right to, and should, do so. And I recognize that Ebola could become a wide-spread public health crisis – notwithstanding that the U.S. health system is currently showing itself to be quite capable of curing Ebola when it is caught early.

But even with all this, shouldn’t the number of victims of an illness exceed the number of articles written about insurance implications for the illness? That just seems like a good rule of thumb.

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