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2020 Insurance Timeline : A Perilous Year for Businesses, Individuals

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By Crain’s Content Studio

The coronavirus pandemic has rendered 2020 one of the most tumultuous years in modern history. A record-breaking hurricane season, civil unrest, digital insecurities and more have added to the risks faced by businesses and individuals over the past 12 months. Take a look back at some of 2020’s most significant headlines from the U.S. and Canada and explore their potential insurance implications.

  • Severe storms affect large swath of U.S.

    11 lives are lost when a powerful storm system sweeps through the South and Midwest, bringing heavy snow, ice, tornadoes and flooding. In Kiowa, Oklahoma, a man drowns in floodwaters, and at Port Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, high winds, massive waves and flooding cause millions of dollars in damage.


    “Many homeowners are not aware that flood is not covered by their Homeowners Insurance policy. Flooding is one of those perils that can be the most devastating.” –Brad Turner, National Product Manager, Flood, Burns & Wilcox, Morehead City, North Carolina


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Residential Property; Primary and Excess Flood

  • Novel coronavirus hits the U.S.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce a 30-year-old Washington State man is the first confirmed U.S. case of infection with the novel coronavirus.

    Source: The New York Times

  • 97,000-plus gallons of wine spill in California

    A 97,000-gallon winery tank door pops open at Rodney Strong Vineyards, and 46,000 to 96,000 gallons of cabernet sauvignon flow into the Russian River, about 65 miles north of San Francisco. A mechanical failure is believed to have caused the door to open.


    “Every business has an environmental exposure and recognizing that is critically important.” –Jude Sutton, Senior Broker, Environmental, Burns & Wilcox, Denver, Colorado


    Featured Solutions: Environmental; Management Liability

  • Novel coronavirus hits Canada

    At a news conference, Ontario health officials confirm a male resident who returned to Toronto on Jan. 22 after visiting China is the first confirmed “presumptive” case of the novel coronavirus in Canada.


    Source: Reuters

  • U.S. declares public health emergency

    U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declares a public health emergency in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus.


  • Overturned tanker truck spills 5,000 gallons of hazardous material, prompts evacuation

    Homes were evacuated and hazmat crews called after a tanker truck carrying 5,000 gallons of butyl acrylate overturned on a bridge. The driver was not injured in the accident, which occurred on the Buck Creek Road bridge in Whitley County, Kentucky, about five miles south of Williamsburg. The driver blames GPS for directing him to use the bridge.


    “It is important that cargo carriers understand what they are hauling and to what degree it can be considered a hazardous material.” –John Woods, Vice President, National Practice Group Leader, Transportation, Burns & Wilcox, Scottsdale, Arizona


    Featured Solutions: Transportation and Garage; Environmental; Liability (Personal)

  • Election results delayed due to alleged app failure

    A smartphone app marred by alleged technical and design flaws is being blamed for a days-long delay in reporting results from the February 3 Iowa U.S. presidential election caucus.


    “When app developers must rush their processes to meet their clients’ needs, the likelihood for errors increases considerably. While quality controls and sound risk management procedures are essential, they do not address or mitigate every potential error or circumstance that could arise.” – Derek Kilmer, Manager, Professional Liability, Burns & Wilcox, Detroit/Farmington Hills, Michigan


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media

  • Multiple tornadoes rip through Tennessee, Kentucky

    The tornadoes were rated EF-0 to EF-4 and claimed the lives of 24 Tennesseans on March 3. CoreLogic estimates the total damage to residential and commercial structures to exceed $1B.


    Sources: News Channel 5 Nashville – WTVF; CoreLogic


    Featured Solutions: Commercial Property; Residential Property; Personal Articles Floater; Primary and Excess Flood

  • Coronavirus crisis highlights cybersecurity hazards of remote work, telemedicine

    As employees transition to working remotely during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could lead to data breaches include unsecured wireless networks, home hardware, third-party videoconferencing services and inadequate antivirus software.


    “You are only as good as your weakest link. By challenging the status quo and merging cybersecurity resources with insurance under one digital risk offering, you can harden your infrastructure and improve your cyber risk footprint.” –Matthew Lefchik, Director, Cyber Risk Management, Node International, Detroit/Farmington Hills, Michigan


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media

  • Businesses evolve to face challenges posed by COVID-19

    To meet a surge in demand for suddenly-scarce medical equipment and other health care-related products, manufacturers shift to making items like hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment for care providers, respirators and ventilators. To serve customers during shutdowns, restaurants and other businesses implement new delivery services and begin carrying new product lines.


    Featured Solutions: Casualty (Commercial); Manufacturing and Distribution; Errors and Omissions (E&O); Property (Commercial)

  • FDA orders Zantac pulled from the market

    The Food and Drug Administration announces it has halted sales of the popular drug in the U.S., pending the results of its ongoing investigation. It now appears that the levels of the contaminant increase over time and when stored at higher-than-normal temperatures.


    Source: CNN


    Featured Solutions: Manufacturing & Distribution; Product Recall

  • Walmart sued by family of worker who died from COVID-19

    The family of Wando Evans, a 51-year-old stock and maintenance associate who worked at the same store for 15 years, files a lawsuit alleging the company did not respond properly to COVID-19 symptoms exhibited by several workers at a Chicago-area Walmart store, including failing to share information about associates’ symptoms with their coworkers, provide them with gloves, enforce appropriate distancing and other measures.


    “Companies and board members need to have very sound communication practices and be responsive. Clear communication has never been more critical. Without it, companies are highly vulnerable to litigation.” –Nicole Greene, Associate Vice President, National Brokerage Operations, Professional Liability, Burns & Wilcox, Detroit/Farmington Hills, Michigan


    Featured Solutions: Management Liability

  • Meatpacking plant closures expected to disrupt supply chain

    Tyson Foods announces it is closing its largest pork plant. Major shutdowns at plants all over the country due to coronavirus lead to shortages, causing prices for meat products to soar and prices for animals to plummet.


    Source: CBS 2 Pittsburgh – KDKA


    Featured Solutions: Manufacturing & Distribution

  • Senior living facilities face major risks, challenges

    The state of New York mandates no visitors in senior living facilities, requires PPE and temperature checks for employees, isolating COVID-19 positive patients, designating staff members to care for coronavirus patients, and transferring COVID-19 patients to another facility if they are unable to care for them. In Michigan, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services begins releasing facility-specific COVID-19 information and Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order requires nursing homes to report COVID-19 cases and outlines procedures for isolating patients.


    “Care providers are under a tremendous amount of stress. Not only do they worry about their residents, they worry about their own health and safety as well as their family’s health and safety. This stress is magnified with additional concerns over potential malpractice lawsuits as they do their best to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic.” –Margaret Karnick, Senior Underwriter, Professional Liability, Burns & Wilcox, Chicago, Illinois


    Featured Solutions: Professional Liability

  • FDA clears Remdesivir for coronavirus treatment

    The antiviral drug, manufactured by Gilead, is granted an emergency use authorization following a modestly successful trial of the drug showing patients treated with the drug recovered more quickly, in an average of 11 days versus 15 days for patients who received a placebo.

    Source: The New York Times

  • Expansion of workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 sparks concerns

    California Governor Gavin Newsom signs Executive Order #N-62-20, which presumes that employees who develop COVID-19 and meet certain criteria are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.


    Featured Solutions: Workers’ Compensation

  • Heavy rain, dam failures unleash ‘500-year flood’ in Mid-Michigan

    The damage is tied directly to severe weather, as heavy rains caused catastrophic dam failures. Dow Chemical Company’s main plant in Midland, which is downstream from the breached dams, activates its local emergency center in Michigan and implements “its flood preparedness plan, which includes the safe shutdown of operating units on site.”


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Residential Property; Primary and Excess Flood

  • Thefts surge at businesses shuttered by COVID-19

    Commercial properties left vacant during coronavirus-related shutdowns increasingly become the target of burglaries, adding another challenge for businesses already facing mounting hardship. As overall crime rates plummeted globally, New York City sees a 169 percent spike in commercial burglaries and Vancouver reports a 147 percent increase in commercial break-ins.


    “Reduced staffing and businesses operating at limited hours mean more opportunities for burglaries.” –John Heaner, Associate Managing Director, Underwriter, Commercial Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Tampa, Florida


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial)

  • Backyard pool sales, dog adoptions spike amid pandemic stay-at-home orders

    Sales of pools, trampolines and other backyard recreational items surge as families try to salvage a summer marred by camp closures, community pool shutdowns, travel restrictions and continued anxiety over the COVID-19 crisis. U.S. and Canadian vendors sell out of above-ground pools and trampolines and luxury backyard amenities like hot tubs and outdoor fire features become increasingly popular. Pet adoptions rise dramatically, in a “pandemic puppy” trend that has families taking advantage of extra time at home to train a new dog.


    “If you do decide to invest in warm-weather amenities, be sure to also invest in the proper liability coverage to protect yourself and the possibility of injury among guests, neighbors and family, in addition to your property coverage.” –Kate Wright, Associate Vice President, Regional Practice Group Leader, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Indianapolis, Indiana


    Featured Solutions: Residential Property; Liability (Personal)

  • Property damage from Minneapolis looting assessed at least $55 million

    Looting in Minneapolis following the May 25 killing of George Floyd is estimated to have caused at least $55 million in property damage, local leaders say. At least 220 buildings were damaged.


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Casualty (Commercial)

  • Class-action status sought in suit over health care company breach

    Attorneys file a complaint in U.S. District Court in Albany, New York, on behalf of one of two patients pursuing class-action status for their lawsuits against a Colonie, New York health care company and its accounting firm over a 2019 data breach that reportedly exposed the sensitive information of 170,000 patients. The lawsuits allege BST & Co. CPAs, the accounting firm for Community Care Physicians, experienced a ransomware attack in December 2019 and failed to disclose the incident to affected patients for more than two months. The patients claim they face significant and long-lasting impacts, including persistent anxiety and future expenses.


    “Patients may not trust a health care facility going forward if they feel their data is not being properly protected.” –Erica Rangel, Broker, Professional Liability, Burns & Wilcox, Chicago, Illinois


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media; Management Liability

  • |||
    Patrons, clients, patients increasingly asked to sign COVID-19 liability waivers

    In addition to mask requirements and temperature checks, some companies require customers to sign a waiver of liability for potential coronavirus exposure.


    “There are so many different angles and facets to these situations that no two circumstances will be identical. This is why it is imperative to consult someone with experience and expertise in writing insurance policies for your type of business.” –Joseph Sweeney, Broker, Burns & Wilcox, New York, New York


    Featured Solutions: Casualty (Commercial); Workers’ Compensation

  • Hand sanitizers recalled due to risk of toxic methanol

    Dozens of hand sanitizer products are recalled or recommended for recall for potentially containing methanol, which can be toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin. The FDA first alerts consumers in June about the presence of methanol, also known as wood alcohol, in nine products and expands the warning to include 59 types of hand sanitizer, all reportedly produced in Mexico. Health Canada also issues recalls for hand sanitizers potentially contaminated with methanol or ethyl acetate.


    Featured Solutions: Manufacturing and Distribution; Casualty (Commercial)

  • U.S. hits 10th billion-dollar weather disaster earlier than any previous year on record

    2020 marks the sixth consecutive year with 10 extreme weather events, which is also a record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 10 storms include tornadoes, damaging winds and hail. Seven of the 10 storms occurred in the South or Southeast, where an Easter Sunday tornado outbreak of 190 tornadoes killed 36 people.


    “If you have a $1 million home and you do not increase your replacement costs for inflation for three years in a row, you could be underinsured by $200,000. Not many homeowners could afford that.” –Ian Hanson, Associate Vice President, Underwriting Director, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, San Francisco, California


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Residential Property; Primary and Excess Flood

  • Twitter hackers target Elon Musk, Barack Obama, other major accounts in Bitcoin scam

    The hackers behind the attack receive 400 payments in bitcoin equal to $121,000. The scammers gained access to high-profile accounts and tweeted that they would double payments in bitcoin sent to a certain cryptocurrency wallet.


    Source: CNBC


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media

  • Georgia governor signs bill allowing liquor home delivery

    The legislation allows stores and some restaurants to deliver beer, wine and liquor to homes. It won final approval in the Georgia House on June 25.


    “With states changing regulations, it is very important that businesses make sure they are adequately insured, that the insurance company is aware of their intentions to provide home delivery, and that there are no gaps in their policies.” –Aaron Pfister, Associate Managing Director, Burns & Wilcox, Scottsdale, Arizona


    Featured Solutions: Hospitality; Casualty (Commercial)

  • Life Time Inc. offers “distance learning support camps” as child care option, new revenue source

    While gyms and in-person classes are shut down in many areas, 100 Life Time locations nationwide open as child care centers for kids aged 4-12. The centers require all children and adults to wear masks and temperatures to be taken twice daily. Enhanced safety and cleaning protocols are implemented, according to a news release. At the same time, companies implement on- and off-site child care services for employees with children and parents create in-home “learning pods” where children meet in small groups for supervised online learning.


    Featured Solutions: Casualty (Commercial); Property (Commercial); Residential Property; Liability (Personal)

  • Cold snap destroys millions in marijuana plants as cannabis sales soar

    Early cold temperatures and snow in Colorado destroy millions of dollars in outdoor marijuana plants. The drop of about 70 degrees happens too early in the growing season for farmers to harvest the plants. The extreme weather challenges follow a period of record-setting cannabis sales.


    Featured Solutions: Cannabis; Manufacturing and Distribution; Casualty (Commercial)

  • Hurricane-force winds flip 45 semi trucks in 20 minutes

    Wind gusts of nearly 100 miles per hour blasted portions of Utah last week, causing major damage and killing one person. At least 45 semi-trucks were blown over by the windstorm, sending four truck drivers to the hospital with injuries.


    “A freak event like this illustrates the importance of making sure organizations have the proper insurance at all times, to cover the value of their trucks and the value of the cargo they are hauling for others.” –John McGlynn, Director of Transportation, Burns & Wilcox, Toronto, Ontario


    Featured Solutions: Transportation and Garage

  • Woman killed in tragic elevator accident at Boston apartment building

    Boston University French lecturer Carrie O’Connor, 38, perishes from “traumatic asphyxia” when an elevator in her new apartment building plunges from the first floor towards the basement as she tries to transport a large package. The elevator for the apartment building, which was built in 1920, had been inspected and certified prior to the incident.


    Source: People


    Featured Solutions: Habitational; Commercial General Liability

  • Woman dies during ransomware attack on German hospital

    The death could be the first death directly linked to a cyberattack on a hospital, according to reports. Although the ransomware attack was not intended for the hospital and was addressed to a nearby university, the hospital was unable to accept emergency patients because of the attack and the woman had to be sent to a health care facility 20 miles away.


    Source: The Verge


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media

  • Glass Fire rages across Northern California, destroying multiple vineyards

    More than a dozen operations in Napa Valley are partially or completely destroyed due to the wildfire. The Glass Fire burns more than 66 square miles, damages or destroys over 100 structures, and forces tens of thousands of people to evacuate. One winery loses about 900 bottles of wine valued at $60 to $200 per bottle from the year’s harvest.


    “If a winery loses $5 million worth of wine and that stock is not adequately insured, it could face significant challenges paying its growers, operating costs, loans and any other expenses. That kind of shortfall can easily lead to filing for bankruptcy.” –Rich Gobler, Corporate Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Burns & Wilcox, San Francisco, California


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Casualty (Commercial); Residential Property; Personal Articles Floater; Wildfire Defense Systems

  • Accident at Ohio construction site triggers gas line blast

    The accident starts when a truck backs over a gas line and strikes a utility pole. The surrounding area is rocked by the blast as the gas ignites, sending flames and smoke into the sky for hours and forcing nearby buildings to be evacuated. No injuries are reported.


    Featured Solutions: Property (Commercial); Casualty (Commercial)

  • Peloton recalls pedals on 27,000 bikes after reports of injuries

    The recall applies to pedals on bikes sold between July 2013 through May 2016. The brand had received reports of 120 pedal breakages and 16 injuries before issuing the recall.


    “From a financial standpoint, if a company is involved with a product, especially one that has the potential to cause bodily injury or property damage, that company needs Product Recall Insurance coverage.” –Angela Tam, Vice President, Brokerage Manager, Burns & Wilcox, San Francisco, California


    Featured Solutions: Manufacturing and Distribution; Casualty (Commercial)

  • Kroger announces COVID-19 rapid antibody testing program

    Testing to detect past coronavirus infection to be available at 2,200 pharmacy locations and 220 clinic locations for $25, with results in 15 minutes. Kroger launched a self-administered COVID-19 testing program in August aimed at helping employers reopen safely.


    “The greatest liability lies in the products used to provide and interpret the test.” –Greg Wideman, Brokerage Manager, Healthcare, Burns & Wilcox, Chicago, Illinois


    Featured Solutions: Casualty (Commercial)

  • Pfizer announces promising Phase 3 vaccine trial results

    The vaccine trial reports an unexpectedly high success rate in preventing COVID-19 infection—more than 90 percent effective. Concerns are raised about the requirements that the vaccine be stored at about -75 degrees Celsius (-100 degrees Fahrenheit), around 50 degrees colder than any other vaccine currently in use in the U.S. Some states and hospital systems rush to purchase new freezers to accommodate the vaccine, creating potential supply shortages, and some experts warn of potential major glitches when frontline workers must handle large amounts of dry ice, which is also in short supply in many parts of the country.

    Source: CNN

  • Chipotle opens its first digital-only restaurant

    Chipotle Digital Kitchen in Highland Falls, New York will consist of only a lobby for off-premise orders and food pick-up. Orders will be placed online, through the Chipotle app, or third-party delivery partners.


    “Anytime there is a change in the landscape of a business, its cybersecurity plan must also change in response.” –Rahmad Bauldrick, Director, Regional Practice Group Leader, Professional Liability, Burns & Wilcox, Chicago, Illinois


    Featured Solutions: Cyber/Privacy/Technology/Media; Errors and Omissions (E&O)

  • Family sues Publix over deli worker’s death from COVID-19

    The family of a 70-year-old man who died of COVID-19 complications files suit against his employer after he was allegedly prohibited from wearing a face mask at work. Gerardo Gutierrez was employed at a Publix grocery store in Miami Beach, Florida when he was infected with coronavirus in early April. At that time, Publix had mask-wearing restrictions in place for workers in its deli, meat and seafood departments. Gutierrez family’s lawsuit alleges that the store’s mask policy led to his death.


    Featured Solutions: Management Liability

  • Restaurants get creative with outdoor dining structures

    In Michigan, where indoor dining is paused until at least Dec. 9, the owners of Brass Ring Brewing build “craft beer shanties” inspired by fishing shanties to allow customers to comfortably dine outdoors. The restaurant is among many establishments in the U.S. and Canada pursuing temporary outdoor dining structures including pole tents, igloo domes and elaborate “streeteries” made from plywood and complete with lighting and heating.


    “Building a structure for guests to dine outside may defeat the purpose of being outside. Before committing to the extra costs to build a structure, they need to make sure it is within government guidelines and advise their insurance company to confirm coverage.” –Patricia Sheridan, Director, Commercial Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Toronto, Ontario


    Featured Solutions: Architects and Engineers; Errors and Omissions; Casualty (Commercial); Property (Commercial)