Churches provide comfort, guidance, and hope to people across the South. Especially in hard times where people are dying and struggling to make ends meet, and where coping with confinement is extremely difficult, churches are a valuable resource for residents of Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states ordered that churches be closed, and that services and meetings be held online. As states begin to ease the restrictions, churches and other businesses are being ordered to honor safe distancing requirements and to limit the number of people in public gatherings.
According to Religion News, congregants are concerned about the risks of in-person worship. One Kentucky church pastor stated that it’s unlikely his church will open until June or July at the earliest. What’s even less clear and likely to be contentious is how insurance risks will be handled.
Churches are concerned about their liability if congregants contract the disease on reopening. Houses of worship are also concerned whether their business interruption insurance policies will cover their expenses while the church is closed or while full operation is limited.
Churches need to be mindful, according to Religion News, that when they adopt policies regarding church safety, they must comply with the adopted rules or their liability insurance may not be effective.
As for the church business interruption claims, many of the church policy legal issues being raised due to business losses caused by COVID-19 are similar to those being raised for businesses that are losing profits:
- Insurers are generally denying business interruption claims on the grounds that viruses are excluded, and that COVID-19 isn’t causing physical damage to structures.
- Attorneys for businesses including nonprofits such as churches are contesting these denials by asserting that:
- COVID-19 is a type of physical damage;
- Businesses and churches can’t access their property – due to government shutdowns; and
- The exclusions don’t exist or aren’t properly worded.
- While churches don’t lose profits, by definition of being a nonprofit, they do have expenses that business interruption insurance should cover such as mortgage costs, utility expenses, various types of insurance, and other overhead and operating costs.
Additionally, churches need to consider that if they apply for business interruption coverage, they may not be eligible if they conduct church services in violation of any state orders.
Risk recommendations for churches
Insurers for churches are recommending that when churches reopen, that they:
- Comply with the six-foot social distance rule
- Sterilize and disinfect anything parishioners may touch
- Use “hardcover seating options instead of fabric-covered pews to expedite cleaning”
- Remove physical holy books and hymnals so that multiple people won’t touch them
- Have signs to indicate what’s expected of the worshippers
Staff and volunteers need to understand the safety rules and how to respond if congregants don’t comply with the rules. Churches should also consider some form of “contact tracing” such as recording those people who attend each church service.
Churches offer hope to people in trying times. Our pastors guide children, adults, and seniors in their daily lives by providing spiritual guidance. Many churches also serve congregants and communities in a host of economic and cultural ways. If your church has suffered economic losses and is concerned about future losses, call Warhurst Law at 251.207.1296 or use our contact form to discuss your claim and your insurance risk concerns. We represent churches across the Southeast including Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and Louisiana.
* Warhurst Law cannot and does not guarantee an outcome to any case.