Keeping up with professional liability in a post-COVID environment

Keeping up with professional liability in a post-COVID environment | Insurance Business Canada

Keeping up with professional liability in a post-COVID environment

The professional liability space wraps its arms around just about everyone. From engineers to medics, every business small or large has faced challenge after challenge over the last year, forcing many in the professional liability space to recommend they adjust their risk management approach.

Read more: COVID-19 has raised professional liability coverage issues – and demand is still booming

“Constantly shifting lockdowns and a lack of consistency from province to province has created some confusion for companies and professionals - and across Canada many have been trying to navigate different stages of recovery,” Robert Holmes, complex casualty practice leader for Canada at Crawford and Company, told Insurance Business.

According to Holmes, Canadian businesses are going to endure a lot more complexity in this reopening and recovery stage and it’s important to understand the shifting government criteria in each province in order to protect business operations and implement effective risk policies.

The biggest piece of the puzzle that most institutions and their insurers are waiting for is public health guidance and legislation. Some businesses have proactively developed their own policies surrounding COVID-19, but only the government can provide clear guidance to solidify any decisions.

“Slowly but surely provinces have started to roll out protection for businesses surrounding COVID-19 transmission, so there is legislation in a few provinces that would protect you from transmission lawsuits assuming you were following public health guidelines,” said Holmes.

A problem impacting multiple sectors

Each sector is facing its own set of challenges, and Holmes went into detail about those that have been heavily impacted.

“One thing we’ve seen is medical professionals facing backlash because of delays or denial of service, we’ve seen some claims arising from decreased quality of care, lack of access to care, or the fact that appointments are taken over the phone rather than in person,” he said.

On the engineering procurement, construction management side, Holmes mentioned that COVID-19 interruptions had hugely disrupted supply chains and projects, with construction managers having to maintain their structure of care and meet contractual deadlines amid the backdrop of all the issues that the pandemic is presenting to them.

In the directors and officers (D&O) space, he noted that there have been huge amounts of financial distress in the marketplace, and businesses are still trying to navigate how to manage through issues like claims coming in regarding lack of preparedness or lack of risk disclosure.

Another big area has been supporting organizations; “they’re trying to get reopened and implement policies surrounding vaccination and get their return placements back up and running, while they’re facing complaints surrounding vaccine mandates and discrimination,” Holmes noted.

In the same vein, employment practice liability insurance (EPLI) has been a big discussion point because of mass layoffs, insufficient benefits, delayed reopening, vaccine mandates and medical screening.

“The reopening and push to get people back in the workplace will be interesting and present some challenges when it comes to medical screenings, vaccines, and privacy,” he said. “I think we’ll see a push on the human rights and discrimination claim side.”

Read next: How the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted innovation in claims

“Insurance brokers are also starting to receive backlash from their perceived failure to provide appropriate communicable disease coverage for their clients,” Holmes explained. “Much like what we have seen on the property side with challenges around BI coverage for the pandemic, as Canada reopens, coverage issues will arise in what is a unique and quickly changing environment. Some will be solved at the insurer/broker advocacy level and others that more broadly affect the industry, may need to be solved by the courts.”

Policies need to be formed in response to public health guidance – but it’s a constantly evolving environment and being agile is the name of the game. The government is going to set and update the rules - and it’s up to businesses to stay informed and follow them.

Brokers also need to take a close look at how COVID-19 has affected a policyholder’s operations, how they responded, recovered, and what their plans are for the future.

“Are they financially resilient? Do they have contingency plans in place for all aspects of their business? Brokers should be looking for a suite of coverages that pair well with a company’s operational and HR needs,” said Holmes.