The excerpted article was written by

The Star Vancouver

When Dr. Michael Duchnay had to close his west end Toronto dental practice due to the pandemic, it was catastrophic, but there was one stroke of good luck: He had insurance. In fact, his business policy explicitly mentioned pandemic-caused closures.

But when he shuttered his shop March 15 after an advisory from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario strongly recommended he do so, his initial attempt to collect was rebuffed.

It took two weeks of runaround before insurance giant Aviva Canada agreed to pay him and other Ontario dentists for the pandemic coverage included in their expensive policies.

But while the dentists may have won their fight, other Ontario business owners might not be so lucky, experts say.

“I would say that given the extent of the loss here, cutting across multiple industries, really all sectors, the insurers are in a bit of a difficult situation,” says Toronto lawyer Hovsep Afarian, who specializes in insurance coverage law.

“So their reflexive response has been, let’s deny and we’ll sort things out later,” says Afarian, who works at the national firm McCarthy Tetrault LLP.

He says denials are being made to all kinds of claims — likely, he believes, because the insurance companies are hoping that Ottawa will offer up more aid in the meantime.

“I think a part of it may be motivated by the potential for the government to step in and provide alternative avenues for redress,” says Afarian who has already taken on pandemic clients.

“So if there’s another pocket involved, the insurers have essentially mitigated their loss because no doubt they’re going to say ‘look to the government first.’ ”

Aviva Canada CEO Jason Storah announced Tuesday evening that the company would be honouring its pandemic commitment to dentists, saying they had a unique arrangement for such viral coverage.

“There were a number of complex legal, regulatory and operational hurdles related to the dentists’ claims that we simply had to work through,” Storah said in a statement.

But, Storah said, the hurdles have now been overcome.

“As a result I can confirm today that Aviva Canada will of course stand by this pandemic coverage,” he said, adding there would be guidance from the company soon on making claims.

Afarian says most businesses would not have pandemic language written into their property policies. And if they don’t, he says, there is a real legal question as to whether pandemic related interruptions are covered.

“Business interruption is usually a component of a property policy (for which) you need physical damage,” Afarian says.

“So the debate in the industry is ‘do we have physical damage if there is a virus in the building?’ ”

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