Why your home insurance policy may not protect you if someone gets COVID-19 at your house

Many insurance policies have exclusions for communicable diseases, which means that your insurance may not step in to cover legal expenses if someone catches a disease while in your home.

Many insurance policies have a communicable disease exclusion, say some experts

With the holidays approaching, the temptation to host a house party could be getting more tempting. But if someone catches COVID-19 in your home, becomes gravely ill and decides to sue, your home insurance policy may not cover any legal expenses. (Getty Images)

As the holidays get closer, many people may be tempted to have people over for a party or gathering — even if it's not allowed.

But a Kitchener lawyer warns that many home insurance policies contain exclusions for communicable diseases, which could include COVID-19.

That means if someone were to catch COVID-19 in your home, become severely ill and sue for damages, your home insurance might not step in to cover legal expenses.

"If you get sued and you have to defend your way right through trial, you're looking at tens of thousands just in defence costs, depending on what's involved in the defence of the action," said Greg Brimblecombe.

"If you're going to choose to act in a way that seems contrary to what the public health officials are saying, it could cost you a lot of money."

Kevin Donovan of Donovan Insurance in Waterloo says many of the home insurance providers he works with have communicable disease exclusions.

He and Brimblecombe encouraged people to read their policies carefully and call their broker for more information.

Possibility of claim 'remote,' lawyer says

Still, personal injury and disability lawyer Rob Deutschmann said the possibility of this kind of legal claim is "remote."

Without insurance coverage, the plaintiff might not have much of a chance of winning significant damages and legal action might not be worth it, he said.

In this type of case, Deutschmann said the court would have to consider the specific facts of the situation. It may also be a challenge to prove that someone definitely caught COVID-19 at a particular gathering, he said.

Some responsibility may also lie with the person who attended the event, he said. 

Even so, he echoed Brimblecombe's point that people should aim to err on the side of caution. 

"A claim is pretty remote, but you know, aside from just being a good citizen and following all of the rules, you do leave yourself open to some possible exposure if you're hosting an event and not following the guidelines," said Deutschmann.

With Waterloo region in the red zone, anyone hosting a gathering of more than five people indoors or 25 people outdoors could also face a ticket from bylaw of $750.

Ideally, people shouldn't socialize with those outside their immediate household at all, according to Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health.

Read your policy

Exercising caution and following public health guidelines is something Pete Karageorgos tries to impress upon people as well. 

"You want to make sure that you're doing what you should be, based on the guidance provided by the public health department locally and provincially," said Karageorgos, who is the Ontario director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

He said people should make sure they understand their policies front-to-back and contact their broker or the IBC if they have questions.

And while reviewing insurance policies might not sound like the most thrilling activity, Karageorgos pointed out it could be a good use of time for those stuck at home during the pandemic.

"The initial trend was making bread at home," he said. "Maybe now people will review their policies."


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