Evaluating Policies After Japan’s Earthquake

John Banister , Erica Dominitz , Barry Fleishman , Helen Michael , Carl Salisbury , Caroline Spangenberg


June 1, 2011

Shock and tragedy were the emotions most felt throughout Japan when the March earthquake and tsunami ravaged the nation. But companies doing business there have since moved on to planning mode, looking for ways to mitigate their losses, both those already suffered and the inevitable ones to come from similar exposures in the future.

An essential first step is to review insurance coverages for losses caused by natural catastrophes. Of particular importance is the potential availability of contingent business interruption insurance coverage for lost sales to Japanese customers or lost supplies from Japanese producers.

Property insurance policies obviously cover direct property damage caused by natural disasters. But those same policies also cover other types of business losses. Time element coverage pays for the lost profits when damaged property affects a policyholder's day-to-day operations. The amount covered generally depends on the time it takes to resume normal business operations. Time element coverage can be triggered by damage either to the policyholder's property or a third party's property, and the most common kinds are business interruption, extra expense and contingent business interruption.

Business Interruption
The purpose of business interruption coverage is to restore the policyholder to the financial position it was in before the property damage occurred. To recover these losses, the lost profits, at a minimum, must relate to the event that caused the policyholder's property damage. Once the insured demonstrates covered property damage, the measure of the loss generally is the difference between expected profits during the recovery period after the event and actual profits during that period, less any unrelated losses.

Perhaps the only recent U.S. event comparable to Japan's earthquake is Hurricane Katrina. In Consolidated Cos. v. Lexington Ins. Co., the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that business interruption losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina were covered without requiring proof to a level of specificity that the loss stemmed solely from damage to the policyholder's property as a result of the hurricane. The insurance carrier argued that the policyholder had to prove what its likely performance would have been had Katrina taken place but not damaged the policyholder's property, reasoning that, even absent damage to the policyholder's property, profits would have been reduced because of the generally depressed economic conditions following the hurricane. Instead, the court concluded that the loss should be calculated as if Katrina had not struck at all.

Coverage for this interdependent business interruption loss can extend to locations that are distant from the damaged property if the policyholder can show that the undamaged facility operated in concert with the damaged one. An example would be a policyholder's remote facility outside of Japan that cannot receive inventory because of damage to the policyholder's manufacturing plant in Japan.

Extra Expense
Extra expense coverage aims to cover additional costs the policyholder incurs to minimize or avoid interruption of its business. Examples of such coverage are: additional utility costs needed to resume business operations; additional costs to store business equipment; moving costs to relocate to temporary facilities; and costs expended for the temporary repair or replacement of property. Most policies also contain a related coverage, similar to extra expense, typically called expense to reduce loss coverage, to reimburse additional costs incurred to mitigate property damage.

Contingent Business Interruption
Many policies protect against profits lost when a policyholder's supplier or customer cannot conduct business because of property damage "of the type" covered under the policyholder's policy. This coverage would provide, for example, recovery to a manufacturer of computers outside of Japan that suffers lost profits as a result of a supplier's inability to provide required components because of damage to the supplier's Japanese facility. Similarly, a policyholders' profits affected by property damage to the facilities of a Japanese customer are recoverable. Covered costs also include losses incurred when a civil authority prevents access to the policyholder's facilities, or when damage to property in the vicinity of the insured property prevents ingress to, or egress from, the policyholder's facility.

John Banister is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Erica Dominitz is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Barry Fleishman is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Helen Michael is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Carl Salisbury is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Caroline Spangenberg is a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.