I am fascinated by this new exclusion that is being drafted and for which approval is being sought, which seeks to exclude claims arising from viruses – not the computer kind, but things like avian flu. I understand the intent, but for any of you who, like I, have been at the insurance coverage business long enough, it ought to ring a bell in your memory about the “asbestosis’ exclusions that were at play in the asbestos coverage litigation boom. For those of you who aren’t old enough to remember it, the central theme was whether exclusions written to exclude asbestosis were meant to – and did – exclude other asbestos caused diseases, or instead only excluded claims where the victims actually developed the particular disease of asbestosis. For those of you who would like more than just this thumbnail history of the issue, try this case, Carey Canada, Inc. v. Columbia Casualty Co., 291 U.S. App. D.C. 284 (D.C. Cir. 1991).
If we are at all lucky, this new virus exclusion will never come into play on a large enough scale for it to matter, but if it does, one can predict deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra – you can foresee plenty of coverage disputes over whether a particular virus or bacteria or ailment falls within the description of virus included in the exclusion’s language, and over which ones do not. Experience suggests to me that the limits of the written word, and the outside limits on the skill set of even the best drafter of policy language, makes it awfully hard to draw a clear line on viruses within, and viruses without, the exclusion.