Canadian Underwriter

Occupy movement: What should small-business clients know?

November 16, 2011   by Terri Goveia

Print this page

After a judge stopped a planned eviction of Occupy Toronto protesters on Tuesday, November 15, hundreds of activists and supporters held a peaceful demonstration in St. James Park instead. A temporary reprieve for the protesters, but none for the nearby small business owners worried about what an eventual eviction could trigger.

LIFT Salon has floor to ceiling windows that front Adelaide St. W., directly across from the park’s north end, where most of the Occupy movement camp is concentrated.

“We’re a little worried about our windows,” says Jeff, a stylist at the salon who didn’t want his full name used. “We hope they’ll be peaceful as they leave.”

The owners have other worries, too. Walk-in business at LIFT, which offers hair styling and other beauty services “has slowed down dramatically,” Jeff says. The Occupy Toronto movement may be peaceful so far, but has still left its mark on the businesses that line the downtown park–and those in other Occupy cities–with many owners wondering whether current or future losses are covered.

Protesters and property

Facing such questions, insurers can only offer mixed reassurance. For the most part, any vandalism or property damage–including any business-related equipment–stemming from any Occupy-related violence should be covered if the peril isn’t excluded, says Paul Lemmon, CEO of All Risks Insurance Brokers Ltd.

In general, small business policies will cover damage that stems from accidental loss for covered perils like riots, civil commotion and vandalism, according to Kulvinder Rai, underwriting team manager at State Farm Canada.

What about my customers?

And those missing customers? Any monetary losses wouldn’t be covered unless there was damage to the business that prevented them from carrying on with services, says Lemmon. “Any monetary loss has to come from an insured peril,” he says. “If there was vandalism that prevented them from doing business, they may be able to claim business interruption.”

Businesses that can’t continue because a supplier is blocked from getting their goods out, may also have some recourse, he says. It depends on the insurance company and it depends on the wording, he stresses, urging brokers to review small business policies to check for exclusions.

But barring serious damage, “if you have access blocked or customers intimidated, there’s really no recourse under insurance policies,” he says. As for customers that stay away from the Occupy neighbourhoods, “You can’t do much about customer’s perceptions [of danger].”

Lemmon suggests that business owners look to their legal advisor to figure out what else they can do about lost business. Otherwise, they’re out of luck, “unless they are resourceful and have a product to sell to the protesters.”

Owners versus protestors

At LIFT, employees haven’t had any serious confrontations with the protestors, but  “some have been rude,” says Jeff. If an argument escalated between a shop owner and a protestor, resulting in damage or even injury, who’s liable? Some policies will pay out if the owner is legally obligated to pay damages for either physical injury or property damage, according to Rai, who says his company’s policy would cover damages “subject to exclusions such as pollution and expected or intended injury.”

Lemmon agrees that basic liability would kick in if someone was injured while in a business and it “wasn’t negligence.” If a protestor caused a commotion and a shop owner had to forcibly evict them, he’d still be covered, he points out, as long as he didn’t use excessive force. “If they’re guiding them out, they’ll be covered.”

How else can small business owners minimize their losses? Lemmon urges brokers to review policies, either with or without the client, to determine exclusions and let their clients know about them as soon as possible. Owners could then contact a lawyer or a local representative, like a councilor or MPP, for help on issues that fall outside the policy’s scope.

Although some businesses on the other side of St. James Park aren’t as concerned as their counterparts to the north–patrons are still heading to La Maquette on King St. W., according to Kristen Lisant, the restaurant’s concierge–brokers and agents should also advise clients on precautions and loss mitigation measures to limit property damage, says Rai.

But should they start taping windows? If they see tensions escalating, it wouldn’t be a bad idea, says Lemmon.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.