workers' compensation

COVID-19-related losses for property-casualty insurers are likely to top $100 billion, with workers’ compensation accounting for about a third of all payouts, according to a new report by Wells Fargo & Co.

The report estimates that workers’ compensation could see total COVID-19 claims payouts of up to $34 billion, but that factors like the severity of workers’ comp cases and the number of deaths will determine the final payouts. This may spur rate hikes in workers’ compensation after years of soft pricing in most of the country.

The majority of workers’ compensation claims are likely to be in the health care sector, and the rest among “essential workers” who have had to remain on the job.

One report by the Division of Workers’ Compensation at the Florida Department of Financial Services found that health care workers and those working in protective services accounted for 83.3% of COVID-19 indemnity workers’ comp claims filed in Florida as of May 31.

The Wells Fargo report forecasts that the claims are likely to put pressure on rates for number of lines of insurance. Besides workers’ compensation, it predicts that these other lines will see significant claims payouts:

Business interruption — The second-highest claims payouts, the report states, will be for business interruption losses related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Wells Fargo estimates that total claims payouts will be between $4 billion and $24 billion.

However, most business interruption coverage, which is typically tied to commercial property policies, does not cover losses from pandemics. That said, some stand-alone policies have had more liberal coverage wording that will require the insurers to pay the claims.

Event cancellation — The report estimates that event cancellation losses will account for nearly 30% of industry losses. This insurance protects event revenues and related expenses against the risks of cancellation, postponement, curtailment, relocation or abandonment of an event for unforeseen circumstances beyond the control of the event organizer.

Beyond the lost revenue, the costs of canceling a large event can run into the tens of millions of dollars, sometimes more. While the specific terms of event cancellation policies vary, many offer broad “all-risk” or “all-cause” coverage that is triggered by any unexpected cause that is not expressly excluded under the policy.

Other policies, however, are written such that only specific causes or risks (like terrorism or natural catastrophe) trigger coverage.

While some event cancellation policies include exclusions for infectious or communicable diseases (which would include COVID-19), many do not.

Other lines of insurance that could sustain losses due to the pandemic include:

  • Travel insurance — Issues that could come into play include emergency evacuation, repatriation and out-of-country medical benefits that cover costs for the treatment and transportation of sick or injured employees. Policies typically offer optional coverage for unexpected medical expenses.
  • Directors and officers liability — These claims could concern legal action for not taking timely measures regarding COVID-19 to protect the organization, as well as legal action for financial damage or even insolvency. 

The topside

The report also notes that there are some lines of insurance that could benefit from lower claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among these is commercial auto, due to the substantial decrease in vehicle accidents as there have been fewer cars on the roads at a time of shelter-at-home orders.

Nils Wright
Author: Nils Wright