What Is Business Interruption Insurance and What Does It Cover?

By: Debra Gerraughty, CISR, CRIS, CPIA

Debbie has more than 28 years of experience in the insurance industry. She enjoys working in the Commercial Lines Department learning new information every day and helping her customers.

Not all small business owners are familiar with business interruption insurance. In fact, only about one-third of U.S. small businesses have interruption insurance.

Unfortunately, many of them will need it one day. Consider these stats:

  • According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) , 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster. Of those that do reopen, 25% fail within one year and 75% will fail in three years without a business continuity plan.
  • The average number of major power outages (one of the top causes of business downtime) in the U.S. has increased 67% since 2000.

This post considers some common questions surrounding business interruption (BI) insurance. If you don’t see the answer you’re looking for, contact us directly. We’ll be glad to explain BI benefits and options.

What is business interruption insurance?

Business interruption insurance – or business income insurance – covers a loss of income and certain operating expenses if a disaster ever forces you to temporarily close shop. It can be found under commercial property coverage or added as an endorsement to that coverage. Either way, it’s important to remember that business interruption insurance usually functions as an extension of your property insurance, which helps to explain some of its terms and limitations.

NOTE: BI insurance can also be included in or added to commercial cyber insurance policies. More on this below.

When does business interruption insurance apply?

Not every type of business shutdown is covered. In most cases, three main criteria must be met:

First, the “interruption” must be caused by a covered peril, a loss event that is listed in your commercial property insurance. In most cases, covered perils include fires, riots, windstorms, and other natural disasters. Floods and earthquakes are common exceptions. Because these disasters typically are not listed on standard commercial property policies (and require separate coverage), they wouldn’t qualify as triggers for business interruption coverage either. Be sure to carefully review the types of events that are and aren’t covered with your agent.

Second, the business must suffer direct, physical damage*. For example, a fire destroys your restaurant kitchen. Or a hurricane rips the roof off your store. In both examples, there is physical property damage that must be repaired. The physical damage component is important in starting the clock for your business interruption coverage. Coverage starts within hours after the damage happens (see Criteria #3) and ends when that damage is repaired (or reasonably should be repaired). The days in between are known as the “restoration period.” This is the timeframe that qualifies for lost income and operating expense reimbursement.

*In some cases, business interruption may cover a situation in which your company has a power outage and suffers a loss due to a nearby broken utility pole. Another example that may be covered is a grocery store loses produce due to a power outage. This comes down to the agent and specific coverage/policy.

Third, the waiting period deductible (usually 24 to 72 hours) must expire. Most business interruption coverage is designed to respond one to three days after the interrupting event occurs (though insurers can request that the length be decreased or even eliminated for a higher premium). This waiting period or “time deductible” replaces the dollar amount deductible you might see in other types of policies.

Are there any exceptions to these rules? Of course! But the above conditions usually apply.

What does business interruption insurance cover?

Business interruption insurance is designed to cover the following categories:

  • Lost income – This is calculated based on documented profits earned during a similar timeframe.
  • Operating Expenses – These include fixed costs like your rent, mortgage, lease, or taxes.
  • Payroll – BI allows you to continue to cover employees’ wages during a slowdown or shutdown.
  • Temporary Location – Extra expenses (loan payment, mortgage, lease payment, moving expenses, etc.) are covered if you must move into a temporary office. It also covers additional rent owed above your normal rent cost.
  • Commission and Training Cost – If a company needs to replace machinery and retrain employees on how to safely operate the new machinery, this will be covered.
  • Taxes – This ensures a business can pay taxes on time, whether taxes are due yearly, monthly, or quarterly.
  • Contingent Business Interruption (CBI) – If your business relies on another business (like a manufacturer) and the other business is delayed therefore delaying your business, you can submit a claim for coverage. There are a few types of CBI.
    • Lender Property (Attraction Property) – Your physical business relies on a nearby business for traffic and that company is damaged. (Example: If your restaurant is in a casino and the casino closes due to hurricane damage.)
    • Interruption by Civil Authority – A road near your business is shut down and this prevents your business from running

Business Interruption Coverage Restoration Period

The restoration period is the timeframe right after the loss occurs until the company can resume normal business operations. This is the timeframe that qualifies for lost income and operating expense reimbursement. There is typically a waiting period associated with this, 24–72 hours. Some insurance companies may offer an extended restoration period, but this will need to be defined when the policy is purchased.

What does business interruption NOT cover?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it highlights several of the common exclusions that business owners should be most aware of:

  • Shutdowns caused by a pathogen, communicable disease, or virus (e.g. COVID-19)
  • Shutdowns or slowdowns caused by government-issued capacity restrictions or lockdowns
  • Shutdowns caused by flood or earthquake damage, which require separate insurance

Business Insurance and Pandemics

In the United States, traditional business insurance does not cover pandemic. Robert Gordon, Senior Vice President of Policy of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association says, “Business interruption insurance only provides potential coverage when there is direct physical loss or damage… Pandemics do not cause direct physical loss or damage and are a largely uninsurable risk.”

How Do I Get Business Interruption Insurance?

The first step is to contact an insurance agency. Reach out to a firm with a reputable team like C&S Insurance, who will take the time to understand your risks and recommend important coverages. Some agencies, like C&S, can provide customized coverage. For example, the property risk will be different if a business has one location or multiple.

How to Reduce Losses After an Interruption

Make sure that you file a claim as soon as possible. The sooner you file a claim, the sooner it can be processed and paid out. Take action to prevent further loss, like boarding up any broken windows and making sure doors have working locks. Your insurance company may reimburse you for these materials.

Who Needs BI Insurance?

Every business should consider BI coverage as a vital piece of its insurance planning and risk management strategy. In today’s world, business interruptions can result from a variety of events: storms, fires, break-ins, cyber-attacks, etc. In fact, business and industrial risk experts say the severity and frequency of BI claims are on the rise.

What Are the Primary Causes of Business Interruption Claims?

Some leading causes of business interruption insurance claims, according to AGCS’s Global Claims Review 2018 Report are fires, aviation collisions, storms, defective products, water damage, and machine breakdowns. Note that not all of these causes are covered by the standard scope of business interruption insurance. It’s a good idea to discuss these and other potential loss events with your business insurance agent so you can supplement with enhanced coverage as needed.

Does Business Interruption Insurance Cover Power Outages?

After a major storm, your access to electricity, water, telephone service, or Internet service could be cut off for weeks. And yet, power outages can happen without causing any physical damage to your property. (Refer to Criteria #2 above) So, are utility interruptions covered by business interruption insurance? The short answer is it depends.

Some property policies do include coverage for utility “service interruption” caused by damage to a transmission line, power plant, transformer, or pump station. In other cases, businesses must purchase a separate utility service interruption endorsement or off-site utility service interruption endorsement.

What Is Utility Service Interruption Insurance?

This endorsement may also be called off-premises power coverage. Without overcomplicating the matter, this coverage can be added to address the potential gaps noted above.

But beware. Even when buying coverage specifically for utility disruptions, terms and exclusions still exist. For example, you will likely find distance limitations (i.e., how far from your property the damage can occur and still be covered). Outages caused by earthquakes or flood damage are often still excluded, as are overhead transmission lines. (You can opt to include overhead transmission lines, typically for a small increase in pricing.) Finally, like BI coverage itself, utility endorsements often contain a waiting period (ranging from 12–72 hours) before the coverage will kick in.

Here again, it’s important to ask your agent if/how your policy language addresses power outages/utility service disruption, and explore additional endorsements as needed.

What Is Extra Expense Coverage?

Extra expense coverage is similar to business interruption insurance, but they’re not exactly the same. And in many cases, it makes sense to carry both types of protection. After a business disruption, extra expense coverage kicks in to reimburse you for any out-of-the-ordinary expenses that crop up, as you attempt to work around the disruption.

So, for example, if you rent a new space or lease new equipment while your original property is repaired, extra expense insurance could cover the extra cost over your normal expense. Extra expense coverage can be secured as part of your BOP or as an endorsement to your commercial property coverage.

What Happens After Business Operations Resume?

Typically, your coverage will end after business operations resume. A standard BOP may offer 12 months of BI coverage. There is the option to purchase extended coverage beyond the standard coverage. If you opt to select extended business income coverage, you may receive further protection against lost income even after some of the operations are restored.

How much BI coverage is enough?

BI coverage is no place for guesswork. Unfortunately, according to the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters survey, 40 % of BI coverage declarations were deemed too low by about 45 percent. To ensure your limit will be adequate, you’ll need to accurately project revenue for the upcoming 12-month period. Next, you’ll need to assess how long it would take to replace all damaged property and resume operations in the event of a worst-case loss. From there, you can work with your insurance agent to select a business income limit of insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What Does Business Interruption Insurance Cover? 
A: Business interruption insurance covers financial losses when a business is unable to operate due to a covered cause of loss.

Q: Does Business Interruption Insurance Cover Loss Due to COVID-19?
A: No, since COVID-19 or other pandemics do not physically harm a business’s physical location.

Q: Who Can Get Business Interruption Insurance?
A: Any business can apply for business interruption insurance.

Q: How Much Business Interruption Coverage Do I Need?
A: This will be different per business. Your insurance company can help you figure out how much business interruption coverage you need.

Q: How Much Does Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Cost?
A: This will also be different per business. Insurance costs for an ice cream truck will be vastly different than a clothing store.

Arm yourself with a business continuity plan that includes paid protection for unexpected downtime. As always, feel free to reach out with your specific questions.

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