The pandemic and claims – what we know so far

Published on Thu, 12/11/2020 - 10:50

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the largest economic loss events in history for companies and insurers alike. However, it’s not only the magnitude of the impact which is unprecedented. Claims trends and risk exposures are also evolving as a result of the pandemic, writes Lars Vissing, Regional Head of Claims, Region Unit London Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.

At AGCS, we have seen claims in some lines of business, such as entertainment insurance, surge during COVID-19. At the same time, traditional property and liability claims have been subdued during lockdown periods. Claims notifications from motor accidents, slips and falls or workplace injuries slowed as more people stayed at home, and with the temporary closure of many shops, airports and businesses across the world.

AGCS also noticed a positive impact on US claims settlement from the suspension of courts and trials. Some claimants and plaintiffs have been more open to negotiating settlements out of court rather than opting to wait a long time until their case is scheduled. However, overall, the impact of the reduction in these types of claims has been outweighed by the increase of COVID-19 related notifications.

Estimates vary, but the insurance industry is currently expected to pay claims related to the pandemic of as much as $110bn in 2020 according to Lloyd’s. AGCS alone has reserved about €488mn (US$571mn) for expected COVID-19 related claims, especially for the cancellation of live events and the disruption of movie or film productions in the entertainment industry.

A new report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) COVID-19 – Changing Claims Patterns identifies in more detail some of the new claims developments that have materialized as a result of the virus across a number of different lines of insurance, assesses the prospect for future notification activity and highlights how claims teams are responding to this new environment. Some of the major changes we see are highlighted below.

Property/Business interruption trends

Property damage claims were not significantly impacted by COVID-19 as loss drivers such as weather are not correlated. However, as production lines restart and ramp up, this could exacerbate the risk of machinery breakdown and damage and even fire and explosion.

AGCS has already seen a few claims related to ramp-ups in the past few months – and there may be more to come. In addition, with fewer people potentially onsite, inspections and maintenance may be delayed or loss incidents such as a fire or escape of water may be noticed too late, increasing the severity of damage.

As has been well-documented, COVID-19 has caused business closures and disruptions globally – which often may not be covered in the absence of physical damage as trigger of coverage. However, the pandemic has also impacted the settlement of standard business interruption (BI) claims in different ways. On one hand, factories in hibernation will not produce large BI claims, as many manufacturers, their customers and suppliers, either shut down or scale back production. When a US automotive supplier was hit by a tornado in spring, the resulting business interruption loss was lower than it would have been during normal operations. Conversely, containment measures during lockdowns can lead to longer and more costly disruptions as access restrictions prevent effective loss mitigation and prolong the reinstatement period, as a fire and explosion at a chemical plant in South Korea demonstrated.

Liability and (D&O) insurance trends

To date, AGCS has only seen a few liability claims which are COVID-19 related. However, liability claims are typically long-tail with a lag in reporting, so general liability and workers’ compensation claims may yet materialize. A number of outbreaks of coronavirus have been linked to high-risk environments such as gyms, casinos, care homes, cruise ships or food/meat processing plants.

A wave of insolvencies, as well as event-driven litigation, could be potential sources of D&O claims. To date, only a relatively small number of securities class action lawsuits related to COVID-19 have been filed in the United States, including suits against cruise ship lines that suffered outbreaks. The pandemic could trigger further litigation against companies and their directors and officers, if it is perceived boards failed to prepare adequately for a pandemic or prolonged periods of reduced income.

Aviation trends

The aviation industry has seen few claims directly related to the pandemic to date. In a small number of liability notifications, passengers have sued airlines for cancellations or disruptions. Slip and fall accidents at airports – traditionally one of the most frequent causes of aviation claims – have declined with the massive reduction in global air traffic, which fell by a record 94% year-on-year in April 2020.

Although a large proportion of the world’s airline fleet have been grounded loss exposures do not just disappear. Instead they change and can create new risk accumulations. For example, grounded aircraft might be exposed to damage from hurricanes, tornados or hailstorms. The risk of shunting or ground incidents also increases, which can result in costly claims.

Long-term claims trends

COVID-19 is accelerating many trends such as a growing reliance on technology and rising awareness of the vulnerabilities of complex global supply chains. Going forward, many businesses are expected to review and de-risk their supply chains and build in more resilience. This could involve some reshoring of critical production areas because of disruption caused by the pandemic. Such a move would likely impact frequency of claims and the costs of any future business interruptions.

Meanwhile, the growth of home working means that companies may have lower property assets and fewer employees on site in future, but there would be corresponding changes in workers` compensation and cyber risks. During the pandemic cyber risk exposures have heightened, with reports of the number of ransomware and business email compromise attacks increasing.  To date, AGCS has only seen a small number of cyber claims which are COVID-19 related however.

The changing response of claims teams

COVID-19 has also reinforced the need for digitalization of claims handling. Remote claims inspections and assessments for tornados, floods or major industry accidents are now possible through satellite, drone or image capture technology and tools such as MirrorMe.

Just a few years ago, claims processes were mostly manual and paper-based and many people could not have imagined handling claims remotely. Now technology plays a key role. AGCS’ cloud-based claims platform has passed the test of the coronavirus with digital claims processes proving resilient throughout the lockdown. This, together with a strongly collaborative approach from our clients and brokers, has enabled our claims teams to handle a surge in claims and deliver expert service without disruption while working remotely.

Lars Vissing, Regional Head of Claims, Region Unit London Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty