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Ohio colleges sue insurers over pandemic claim denials

College of Wooster

A group of four Ohio colleges filed suit against 15 primary and excess insurers and Lloyd’s syndicates Wednesday for $1.2 billion because of the insurers’ refusal to compensate them for pandemic-related losses.

The four private liberal arts colleges — Denison University, Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University and the College of Wooster — filed suit in U.S. District Court in Columbus Ohio, charging they were entitled to coverage under their all-risk commercial property insurance policies, according to the complaint in Denison University et al. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s et al.

The colleges, which are all members of Chicago-based Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators Inc., a consortium of private colleges, universities and seminaries, state in their complaint that their policy expressly includes communicable disease coverage, as well as “interruption by communicable disease” coverage for business interruption caused by a governmental agency’s order. The latter also provides coverage for the cleanup, removal and disposal of substances causing the spread of communicable disease, according to the complaint.

The complaint states the insurers have refused to provide coverage on the basis that “their promise to pay for their loss  is strictly tied to property that undergoes a tangible, permanent alteration or transformation as a result of an external force, as might be the case when a fire burns a piece of wood.”

The suit says the colleges have experienced loss or damage to their property through the presence of coronavirus on their property; governmental orders that limit their use of the property; the need to modify physical behaviors by social distancing; and the need to mitigate coronavirus’ presence in their heating and air-conditioning systems and other places.

The colleges said that while they resumed in-person classes in the fall 2020 semester, the interruption caused by the Ohio governor’s shutdown order led to significant losses.

The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that their losses are covered, damages, interest and attorneys fees.

More insurance and risk management news on the coronavirus crisis here.