What Is a Civil Commotion?

The term civil commotion refers to a public gathering of a large number of people that results in property damage. It is generally the result of a revolt or riot by a large number of people that occurs in a public space. Some of the participants in an uprising may seek to harm others or want to create other mayhem. Most standard property insurance policies cover properties from losses that result from a civil commotion. Those that don't usually offer special coverage.

Key Takeaways

  • Civil commotion is a public gathering of a large number of people that results in property damage.
  • It is generally the result of a revolt or riot by a large number of people that occurs in a public space.
  • Most standard property insurance policies cover properties from losses that result from a civil commotion.
  • Policyholders who experience a loss due to civil commotion must notify both the local authorities and the insurer, and provide a detailed list of damaged items.

Understanding Civil Commotion

A civil commotion is normally defined as an uprising consisting of a large group of people who want to harm people and/or damage property. This may include setting fire to vehicles and buildings, breaking windows, looting, turning over cars, or defacing property. In some cases, it's also called civil disobedience or civil disturbance. Rioting and vandalism may also be used to describe civil commotion in more general terms.

Most standard homeowners’ policies and property insurance policies typically cover losses caused by civil commotion and riots. For instance, homeowners' insurance generally covers damage to property and the insured party's possessions, and it may also provide coverage for additional living expenses (ALE) if the homeowner has to move out for a period of time while their home is being repaired. Vehicle insurance and business insurance policies cover damage to people's cars and businesses. Business policies may also provide losses related to business interruption, where the owner is forced to close their doors because of civil commotion.

Other types of insurance often contain language providing the amount of coverage for civil commotion, as well as what types are included or excluded from coverage. For example, workers’ compensation usually covers workers injured during instances of civil commotion. These policies typically explain the extent of the coverage.

Policyholders who experience a loss due to civil commotion must quickly notify both the local authorities and the insurer of any damage, and provide a detailed list of damaged items. Some policyholders pay higher deductibles or premiums if they live or operate a business in an area that is considered to be a high risk for civil commotion.

Special Considerations

Insurance policies that don't include civil commotion indicate this in their contracts. Property owners should carefully review their policies, especially in areas where these events may be common. If civil commotion isn't covered, insured parties may have to out a rider. This is a special provision that adds coverage and benefits to the initial policy.

Be sure to read your policy carefully to ensure it covers instances of civil commotion.

There is generally no notice that a civil commotion will take place. But business owners may board up their storefronts or remove valuable inventory items if they are apprised of a civil commotion ahead of time or in times of civil crisis. In some cases, groups of store owners may even work together by preparing for a possible riot, similar to what they might do in preparing for a natural disaster.

Some businesses extensively damaged by civil commotion need to suspend operations or limit the number of hours they remain open. Businesses themselves may not be physically damaged during certain riots, but owners still wind up with financial losses if they must close temporarily, or if local authorities establish curfews.

Example of a Civil Commotion

One of the most famous large-scale civil commotions happened in Los Angeles in April 1992, following the acquittal of five officers charged with beating civilian Rodney King. While some merchants in the Koreatown neighborhood armed themselves, working together to protect their property and deter looting, this practice is usually not recommended by law enforcement. That's because, in rare cases, it may actually put shop owners in serious harm's way. Moreover, this is unnecessary if store owners’ insurance policies cover civil commotion.

The 1992 L.A. riots were the second-costliest cases of civil commotion in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Insured losses were estimated to be nearly $775 million. This translates to $1.4 billion in 2020. The costliest instances of civil commotion occurred between May and June 2020 following the death of George Floyd. Protests and riots ensued across the country after Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis. As of September 2020, the estimated value of losses from the civil commotion was $1 billion and counting.