An avian flu pandemic could lead to claims against a number of insurance lines, but it is questionable whether carriers would be liable for much coverage, experts at an industry conference call said today.

Workers’ compensation, business interruption and pollution exposure policies could come into play should a pandemic break out, according to speakers during a teleconference by Marsh & McLennan Companies insurance services firm.

Executives with MMC said planning, prevention and quarantine are the primary measures officials would use to combat the spread of the disease, and businesses need to plan for such a scenario.

Mark Noonan, managing director and head of workers’ comp practice for North America, Marsh Inc., noted that no matter what the jurisdictional rules of a given state, ultimately it would be up to an employee claiming a comp injury to prove that contraction of the virus was work based.

This legal situation would extend to workers overseas, according to Mr. Noonan.

He recommended that employers look into voluntary programs and election of endorsements to policies, especially those working overseas, to deal with infectious diseases.

Mr. Noonan said those workers living abroad should secure plans that cover the disease and also offer repatriation costs, should the individual becomes infected.

Businesses themselves would not be covered by a property policy unless it incorporates an infectious disease endorsement into the program, said Paul D. McVey, managing director and head of global property claims practice, Marsh Inc.

He said there could be some business interruption coverage should civil authorities close the property as part of a quarantine, but should a business close its operations as a “prudent measure” to protect its employees, “it’s doubtful insurers would cover that.”

Thomas N. Falzarano, managing director and global practice leader for liability claims, Marsh Inc., called the application of pollution coverage a “gray area” if it becomes necessary to clean an infected office.

Mr. Falzarano said there are also liability issues to be raised if a company remains open in the middle of a pandemic, possibly exposing employees to the disease. His best advice was to begin a review process now of policies and “be prepared to place an insurer on notice” if there is the potential for any claim.

Preparation is the best measure for businesses to take, observed Neal Drawas, managing director, corporate preparedness practice at Kroll, a subsidiary of MMC.

Mr. Drawas said businesses need to provide information and plan a response should a pandemic take place. Planning should include back-up suppliers, in case the main supply link is broken because production is closed down. He also noted that educational institutions need to pay attention to the spread of the disease and make plans to deal with an outbreak.

Any planning done now, Mr. Drawas advised, would only serve the future and “would not be a waste.”

Noting the affect of another serious outbreak, Paul Clifford, head of China client services global development, Marsh and Mercer Management Consulting, said during the SARS outbreak a few years back, there was tremendous business interruption due to quarantining.

He said people feared being locked up if they had a call, while others left the city for the countryside to get away from the epidemic. He noted that companies had to become flexible and allow employees to work from home by laptop and rely on telephones to do business.

Dr. Toby L. Merlin, director, division of Private and Public Partnerships National Center for Health Marketing, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC was unveiling information and tool kits online today to help businesses plan and deal with a pandemic.

While the disease is primarily harming the poultry industry in Asia and Eastern Europe, there have been human infections. The infections, he noted, were from direct contact with poultry.

The disease has proved “quite lethal,” he noted, with a reported 135 total human infections. The virus has a 50 percent fatality rate.

Information on the disease and recommendations on what to do can be found at the Center of Disease Control’s Web site at www.cdc.gov.