August 13, 2020 by David Gambrill
As schools across the country prepare for re-opening in September, skittish parents who are not in favour of in-class learning for their children are setting up so-called “pandemic pods” to home-school small groups of children in the home.
But brokers are sounding the alarm that if parents hosting such pods in their home get sued because of the transmission of COVID-19, their homeowner policies are not likely to cover the liability.
“To my Canadian contacts considering pandemic pods for home schooling, your homeowners’ insurance excludes liability coverage for claims arising from transmission of disease,” cautioned Brooke Hunter, president of Hunters International Insurance, in a post on LinkedIn. “You would be taking on forms of liability that won’t be insured. Call me if you’d like to discuss.”
As reported by Katie Dangerfield of Global News, a pandemic pod involves inviting a small group of children — a pod — into the house to learn together. “The parents, on rotation, can educate the children, or they can pool together funds to hire a tutor or teacher.”
One Facebook group, Learning Pods Ontario Facebook, has been established to find like-minded families who may not be comfortable sending their children to school and are looking for other options, as reported by Global News.
Hunter said she was speaking to one organization while arranging support for her youngest child who is public school. “A company with whom I was talking said a majority of requests that they are getting right now is to come with teachers to facilitate a pandemic pod,” Hunter recalled of the conversation. “And they have declined because of the insurance implications.”
Several representative homeowner policies shared with Canadian Underwriter contain exclusions for illness or disease, including wording such as: “the transmission of any communicable or sexually transmitted disease, including Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome…by any person insured by this policy.”
“I’d say COVID is communicable, wouldn’t you?” Hunter asked of the policy language. She went on to note that she didn’t know how liability for the novel coronavirus could be covered under the language of most exclusions in homeowner policies.
Another example is a policy that says, “We do not cover personal injury or property damage resulting from any illness, sickness or disease transmitted intentionally or unintentionally by a covered person to anyone, or any consequence resulting from that illness, sickness or disease. We also do not cover any damages for personal injury resulting from the fear of contracting any sickness, illness or disease, or any consequence resulting from the fear of contracting any illness, sickness or disease.”
Such exclusions could apply to a myriad of situations, and not just the “pandemic pod” example, as Hunter observed. For example, dinner parties during the pandemic may also fall under exclusions, as the provinces allow more people to gather together in private homes.
“Any decision to hold an event during the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter how large or small, should rely on a risk-based approach,” the World Health Organization (WHO) posted in a Q&A on its website last week. “WHO has provided guidance on how such a risk-based approach can be taken.
“This Q&A is focused on small, non-professional gatherings and events (i.e. birthday parties, children’s football games, family occasions). Precautions to consider include actions to prevent transmission between people, and where to hold the venue, and how it can be modified to make a safer environment. Canceling a planned event is an option that should always be considered, especially in case of non-essential events or when precautions cannot be implemented or adequately communicated.”
Hunter noted that many clients of brokers are not considering the important insurance implications of having events at the home during the pandemic. She urged brokers who aren’t already doing so to advise clients about the exposure to risks that may not be covered by their home insurance policies.