High Court finds in favour of FCA on majority of issues in BI case

High Court London

The High Court has ruled that the majority of businesses that held business interruption insurance and were forced to close could be entitled to be compensated by the insurers involved in the test case, subject to appeal.

Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which acted for the Financial Conduct Authority during the proceedings, stated that the court found in favour of the FCA on the majority of the key issues, in particular in respect of coverage triggers under most disease and ‘hybrid’ clauses, certain denial of access/public authority clauses, as well as causation and ‘trends’ clauses.

“The judgment therefore should bring welcome news for a significant number of the thousands of policyholders impacted by Covid-related business interruption losses,” the lawyers reported.

According to an update by the FCA: “The judgment says that most, but not all, of the disease clauses in the sample provide cover.  It also says that certain denial of access clauses in the sample provide cover, but this depends on the detailed wording of the clause and how the business was affected by the Government response to the pandemic, including for example whether the business was subject to a mandatory closure order and whether the business was ordered to close completely.”

Christopher Woolard, interim CEO of the FCA, said: “We brought the test case in order to resolve the lack of clarity and certainty that existed for many policyholders making business interruption claims and the wider market.  We are pleased that the Court has substantially found in favour of the arguments we presented on the majority of the key issues. Today’s judgment is a significant step in resolving the uncertainty being faced by policyholders. We are grateful to the court for delivering the judgment quickly and the speed with which it was reached reflects well on all parties. 

“Coronavirus is causing substantial loss and distress to businesses and many are under immense financial strain to stay afloat. Our aim throughout this court action has been to get clarity for as wide a range of parties as possible, as quickly as possible and today’s judgment removes a large number of those roadblocks to successful claims, as well as clarifying those that may not be successful.

“Insurers should reflect on the clarity provided here and, irrespective of any possible appeals, consider the steps they can take now to progress claims of the type that the judgment says should be paid.  They should also communicate directly and quickly with policyholders who have made claims affected by the judgment to explain next steps.

“If any parties do appeal the judgment, we would expect that to be done in as rapid a manner as possible in line with the agreement that we made with insurers at the start of this process. As we have recognised from the start of this case, thousands of small firms and potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs are relying on this.”

Insurers are expected to analyse the judgment over the coming days and decide whether they will appeal.

Huw Evans, Association of British Insurers director general, said: “Insurers have supported this fast-track court process led by the FCA to help bring clarity for customers and we welcome the speed with which the court has delivered a ruling. The judgment divides evenly between insurers and policyholders on the main issues. The national lockdown was an unprecedented situation that posed understandable questions of interpretation for some business insurance contracts.

“Insurers always regret any contract dispute with their customers and will continue to reflect on feedback from recent events. We recognise this continues to be a difficult time for many businesses, small and large, and for society as a whole. That is why insurers have made a range of commitments to help both businesses and individual customers through the crisis and why the industry expects to pay out over £1.7bn in Covid-19 claims.

“This is a complex judgment spanning 162 pages and 19 policy wordings and it will take a little time for those involved in the court case to understand what it means and consider any appeals. Individual insurers will be analysing the judgment, engaging with the regulator, taking account of the appeal process and keeping their customers informed in the period ahead.”

Today’s judgment by Lord Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Butcher followed two weeks of legal argument in the court this July. Arch, Argenta, Ecclesiastical, Hiscox, MS Amlin, QBE, RSA and Zurich were named as defendants in the case, which has ramifications for up to 60 insurers and 370,000 policyholders.

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