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Threat of claims against businesses as a result of contracting Covid-19 on the premises to be examined

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has asked for an examination of the issue.

Concerns have been raised about Covid-19 insurance into the future.
Concerns have been raised about Covid-19 insurance into the future.
Image: Leon Farrell

FINANCE MINISTER PASCHAL Donohoe has asked his officials to examine the issues around liability and insurability of claims made as a result of contracting Covid-19 while on a business premises.

During the week, Labour’s Brendan Howlin said businesses will not be able to reopen after restrictions are lifted if they cannot avail of Covid-19 insurance.

Howlin said he spoke to a prominent hotelier who said that due to the issue of liability and the duty of care, they would not be able to reopen if their insurance company will not cover them for Covid-19.

He said if a worker or a guest contracts the virus while staying there, there is a fear the owner could be held liable. 

“It will now be impossible for companies and businesses to get Covid-19 insurance. Any renewal of insurance will not cover that. It will be impossible for businesses to open without that insurance. That is what they are telling me directly,” Howlin said.

He added:

They cannot take the risk of being liable for their employees or their customers becoming victims of Covid-19 if they are not insured against it. We must have a solution to that, some sort of indemnity or insurability.

“One cannot sue if one gets the flu when visiting the local supermarket. We need to address that issue or businesses will not reopen when this phase passes,” he said.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Finance said Minister Paschal Donohoe “notes the point raised by Deputy Howlin and agrees that there will inevitably be challenging issues around how businesses operate safely in the context of Covid-19, and that it may have implications for how those businesses are insured”.

The minister has asked his officials to look at the issues relating to liability and insurability of claims made as a result of contracting an illness like Covid-19 while on the premises of a business.

This will be done “in light of the fact that these types of claims against existing illnesses are not common”.

“There are many complexities involved in this matter. For example, one factor such as the nature of Covid-19 as an illness may make it very difficult for an individual to make a claim against a particular business as it may simply be a case that it is not provable.

“Therefore, it is too early to assume that this will be a basis for people to make a claim in the future,” said the statement.

However, it adds that Howlin has raised a valid point that needs to be considered as the country moves to reopen.

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The minister has already been actively engaging with the insurance sector and has “sought for them to play their part at this difficult time”, adds the statement.

Donohoe “will continue to engage on this and other potential issues as they start to become apparent,” says the statement, adding: 

It is important to highlight that the Minister has no role in determining what insurers should cover or not cover in relation to Covid-19 in these difficult times. Such a determination is a matter for the individual insurer.

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