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Does COVID-19 Mean Quarantine? (PA)

June 10, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In a recent order from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court addressed the first of what is sure to be many cases stemming from cancellations of vacations and other travel due to COVID-19. This case was a putative class action filed on behalf of individuals who cancelled travel due to the coronavirus pandemic and whose claims for travel insurance claims were later denied by the defendant-insurer. The defendant-insurer moved to dismiss, and the court subsequently denied the motion on all grounds save for one breach of contract claim.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Ultimately, the court decided that there were too many issues of fact to decide the case so prematurely, one such issue being the definition of the word “quarantine”. The plaintiff at issue had purchased a travel insurance policy from the defendant for a European adventure set to take place in late March 2020. On March 7, the plaintiff cancelled the trip due to COVID-19 and filed a claim with the defendant on March 12, which was denied. The plaintiff argued the denial was incorrect, as the policy language guaranteed up to full reimbursement for any covered reason, one of which was “being…quarantined.” Quarantine was not defined in the policy.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendant-insurer argued that the term “quarantine,” based on the common meaning of the term, by no means applied to the large scale stay at home orders that were enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, the court, recognizing the long-standing principle that an undefined, ambiguous term must be construed in favor of the insured, held there was still a question of fact to be addressed – particularly when considering this case dealt with lockdown procedures in the plaintiffs’ home states and cities as well as in all the destinations through and to which they were traveling.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Going forward, it will be interesting to keep an eye on this action, as the plaintiffs all had different situations leading up to their travel claims, however, the one common denominator was COVID-19.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Abby Wilson for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen Hayes</a>.</p>

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