As most hospitality businesses open up this month after three months of lockdown, many hospitality businesses are worried about failing to follow social distancing guidelines to the letter in the event of a recent guest claiming that he or she contracted the virus while staying at the property.
In an overwhelming proportion of cases such an instance of a claim being made would be picked up under their public liability insurance cover. Mike Williams, former chief executive of the British Insurance Brokers Association, tells Luxury BnB:
“Ultimately if a B&B owner were to have a situation where a guest or any third party – anyone who was not an employee of the business – were to claim they had suffered the Covid 19 virus or any other illness having ‘caught it’ at a B&B, and that the owner clearly hadn’t taken appropriate precautions or protected them properly, then they would have a major burden of proof to demonstrate that was where they were exposed to any risk and to the virus for a start.”
Unless there were an outbreak amongst several of guests, not of the same family but staying at the same time, who could demonstrate that a dozen guests had stayed in that establishment for that month had all gone down with COVID-19, then they would find that very difficult to establish, he says.
He says: “Even if the claimant were able to establish to the satisfaction of a court that on the balance of probability the B&B or guest house in question is the location where they were infected, they then must also demonstrate that the proprietor had not taken sufficient precautions in accordance with the guidance commonly available from trade associations.
“In other words the claimant would have to demonstrate they had failed to comply with relevant guidance to their industry sector, and they would have to show some kind of evidence that that was the case if they were to establish liability.”
Policy terms of your B&B Insurance
However, crucially, in the event the claimant were able to persuade the court that it was the fault of the proprietor, then that is exactly what the public liability part of the policy is designed to protect the proprietor against.
Thus if an award is made against a property owner for injury, disease, damage or loss, the policy pays against it. “There is usually an excess but is usually very small with respect to injury or bodily damage claims,” he says.
He warns there is nothing to stop insurers from imposing a liability exclusion against guests contracting COVID-19 or other pandemic-related infections, but he says they are unable to apply such a change to any existing policies.
“When it comes up to renewal it is possible the insurer will have added a covid exclusion if they don’t want to insure you against COVID-19, or they may stick an excess of thousand s of pounds, or cover the risk for an additional premium fee of several hundred pounds.
“At this point you are free to shop around and find somebody who isn’t,” says Mike.
Peace of mind with your B&B Insurance Policy
He says: “I don’t think there are situations where guests staying at B&Bs and who then contract covid as a result that they will be able to sue the B&B, and in the event that they are then their policy will cover them.”
Terms cannot be changed on existing policies he says, and his advice is to check your policy next time it comes up for annual renewal to see if any such clause has been inserted. “When your policies come up for renewal you should keep a very close eye on what the insurers say they will and will not cover you for in the future, and if you see any exclusions you dislike you should shop around,” he says.
Mike adds: “If any B&B owners are concerned, then they should ask their broker or their insurer whether they are covered in the event they are suddenly sued by guests because they say the B&B owner is responsible for them contracting the COVID-19 virus.
“They should ask if they can have their policy extended specifically to include the consequences of this and/or similar outbreaks and see what they say. They might say no, they might yes but that there is going to be a huge excess, or they may say it is going to cost a fortune to insure.”
He stresses: “I certainly think it is worth asking the question if people are seriously concerned about that.”
Bed & Breakfast association chairman David Weston says: “One of the key concerns of our members relates to guests developing COVID 19 during their stay, as the government guidelines only take you so far without clarifying your legal liability. But realistically I think people are getting excessively worried.
“We’ll be advising our members to make sure they look carefully at their renewals.”
A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers tells Luxury BnB: “For a Public Liability claim to be brought against a business there would be a need to prove that the customer contracted COVID-19 at the premises, and that the business acted negligently (i.e. if they fail to exercise reasonable care in protecting them against, and warning them against, the risks of COVID-19).
“If businesses are concerned about their level of cover, we advise that they check their policy in the first instance and check with their insurer if there are further concerns.”