On 20 June 2023, the Court of Appeals of Turin overturned the first-instance judgment which had sentenced an insurance company to pay €100,000 to the family of a COVID-19 victim.
The deceased individual, a dentist, had passed away in March 2020 after contracting a coronavirus infection and getting sick with pneumonia. While alive, he had taken out a private insurance that covered cases of death due to both work-related and non-work-related injuries.
In first instance, the family of the deceased asked the judges to determine whether contracting SARS-CoV-2 could constitute an “injury” under the insurance contract and, therefore, if death resulting from it should be compensated. The judges agreed with this claim, as it was also considered to be consistent with the interpretation of the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL).
The insurance company then filed an appeal on two grounds: (1) based on the intent of the contractual parties, a COVID-19 infection did not fall within the contractual definition of “injury” but, rather, under that of a “illness”; and (2) a private policy – like the one in question – could not be subject to INAIL regulations, which were only applicable to the public context.
The Court of Appeals of Turin granted both grounds of appeal. The judges highlighted that, as the insurance policy had a private nature, it should be interpreted in light of the parties’ intent. In this case, the parties had distinguished between cases of death due to an injury – which was covered by the policy – and those due to a illness, which were not. More generally, viral infections such as SARS-CoV-2 do not fall within the contractual definition of “injury”, namely an "event due to a fortuitous, violent, and external cause." According to the Court of Appeals, the lower court had erred by equating a “virulent cause” with a “violent cause.” Indeed, this interpretation stemmed from an improper application of labor law principles which had been developed in the field of mandatory accident insurance managed by INAIL. In this case, however, the timing and conditions of the contagion were unknown, and the injury was not immediate, thus lacking the requirement of violence. Therefore, the Court overturned the lower court’s judgment and upheld the company’s appeal.