Gavin Souter | April 20, 2020
A group of law firms together filed six class-action lawsuits against insurers in federal courts from California to New York on Friday on behalf of commercial policyholders seeking business interruption coverage for coronavirus-related losses.
None of the policies contain a communicable disease exclusion, the suits allege.
In addition, another law firm filed two coronavirus-related class action lawsuits in a Pennsylvania state court on Friday.
The latest filings add to a growing tally of policyholder lawsuits against insurers seeking declaratory rulings that their policies cover income lost due to government-mandated business closures that began in March as various state and federal authorities sought to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Common themes in the dozens of suits include assertions that the presence of the coronavirus in or around a property constitutes physical damage under the terms of the policies and coverage is also triggered by the civil authority clauses in business interruption policies.
Insurer groups have generally held that coronavirus does not constitute physical damage and, therefore, coverage is not triggered.
In the latest batch of federal lawsuits seeking class-action status, policyholders represented by law firms DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC in Chicago, The Lanier Law Firm PC in Houston, Burns Bowen Bair LLP in Madison, Wisconsin, and Daniels & Tredennick in Houston represent a variety of businesses including restaurants, a bakery, a bridalwear company and a dentist, in a variety of states. All of the law firms are listed as co-counsel on each of the suits.
The suits make similar allegations and hold that none of the policies have “any exclusion for losses caused by viruses or communicable diseases.”
The Insurance Services Office Inc. communicable disease exclusion was introduced about 15 years ago and is widely used.
The suits are: Gio Pizzeria & Bar Hospitality LLC and Gio Pizzeria Boca LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; Rising Dough Inc., et al. v. Society Insurance in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin; Bridal Expressions LLC v. Owners Insurance Co. in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio; Caribe Restaurant & Nightclub Inc. v. Topa Insurance Co. in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; Dakota Ventures, LLC d/b/a/Kokopelli Grill v. Oregon Mutual Insurance Co. in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon; and Christie Jo Berkseth-Rojas DDS v. Aspen American Insurance Co. in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Aspen declined to comment; Society Insurance and Lloyd’s of London have previously said they don’t comment on litigation; Owners Insurance, Topa Insurance and Oregon Mutual did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, also on Friday, a group of Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers filed two lawsuits seeking class-action status against Erie Insurance Group in state court in Pittsburgh. The two suits, Joseph Tambellini Inc. v Erie Insurance Exchange and HTR Restaurants Inc. d/b/a Siebs Pub v. Erie Insurance Exchange, assert that the all risks policies issued don’t exclude coronavirus-related losses.
Erie declined to comment.
The suits filed Friday follow a wave of coronavirus litigation by restaurants and other small businesses, a law firm in Los Angeles and various Chicago taverns.
Other suits filed this month include: one filed by various units of footwear company Marc Fisher Footwear Corp. in Moda LLC v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co. in state court in Santa Barbara, California, last week; a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, children’s shoe store in Wagner Shoes LLC v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co. filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama; a Redbank, New Jersey-based restaurant in Grand Cru LLC d/b/a Restaurant Nicholas v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. filed in state court in Freehold, New Jersey; a San Francisco-based restaurant in John’s Grill Inc. v. The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. filed in state court in San Francisco; a Cleveland-based ice cream producer in Mitchell Brothers Ice Cream Inc. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co.; a Cleveland-based restaurant group in Millennia Hospitality Group LLC v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co.; a Moreland Hills, Ohio-based clothing firm in Somco LLC v. Lightning Rod Mutual Insurance Co. The Ohio suits were filed in state court in Cleveland.