Pa. insurance commissioner warns businesses of increased liability if they reopen without governor’s OK

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Businesses in counties that decide to ignore Gov. Tom Wolf’s phased-in reopening plan may be putting their insurance coverage at risk, warned Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman.

She said it’s a bad idea for any business to defy the governor’s order at this point, especially if it is located in a “red” zone. A clause in most insurance policies excludes coverage for businesses or individuals engaging in illegal acts or criminal conduct.

“Your insurance company may find it appropriate to exclude coverage if you open in violation of the governor’s order,” Altman said.

Property, liability and injury coverage could be put in jeopardy, and insurance companies could legally withhold paying claims.

“Given that there is the potential for businesses to be violating the governor’s order, those clauses could come into effect,” Altman explained. “So, it’s really important that businesses understand those clauses as part of their decision-making to act responsibly.”

Berks County commissioners are among those pushing back against Wolf, despite still being in the “red” zone.

Under the “red” designation, stay-at-home orders are still in effect, and only life-sustaining, essential businesses are allowed to be open. 

Regardless, Berks commissioners say they are working on developing their own plan to safely reopen businesses in the county.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams and Berks Sheriff Eric Weaknecht both said they will not cite any businesses in the county that open without the state’s authorization.

Berks appears ready to join Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill, Cumberland and Dauphin counties in ignoring the governor’s order.

“We continue to get questions about consequences, but from the beginning, what is most important is that we all do the right thing,” Altman countered. “And, the right thing here is to follow the orders that are being put in place by Gov. Wolf.”