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New Orleans restaurant sues for coronavirus interruption cover

New Orleans

A New Orleans restaurant facing operating restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic filed suit Monday seeking a declaratory judgment that its insurer should cover related business interruption losses.

In the lawsuit filed in state court in New Orleans, Oceana Grill, a 500-seat restaurant in the city’s French Quarter, says it has an all risk property policy with unspecified syndicates at Lloyd’s of London, the policy covers civil authority-ordered shutdowns, and it does not have an exclusion for viruses or pandemics.

The new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, “physically infects and stays on the surface of objects or materials, ‘fomites,’ for up to twenty-eight days, particularly in humid areas,” according to the suit Cajun Conti LLC, Cajun Cuisine 1 LLC and Cajun Cuisine LLC d/b/a Oceana Grill v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London and Governor John B. Edwards.

“It is clear that contamination of the insured premises by the coronavirus would be a direct physical loss needing remediation to clean the surfaces of the establishment,” the suit says.

On March 13, Gov. John B. Edwards issued an order banning gatherings of 250 or more people, and on March 15 New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered restaurants to cease operations at 9 p.m. daily and to restrict capacity to 50%.

The suit seeks an order from the court that the Lloyd’s policy does not contain an exclusion for a viral pandemic, it covers any future civil authority shutdowns due to the coronavirus, and it provides business income coverage “in the event that the coronavirus has contaminated the insured premises.”

The suit seeks a declaration “that the policy of insurance extends coverage from direct physical loss and/or from a civil authority shutdown due to a global pandemic virus” and requests that Gov. Edwards testify that the order applies to the restaurant.

John W. Houghtaling, managing partner at Gauthier, Houghtaling LLP in New Orleans, who represents Oceana Grill, said insurer attorneys for the past two weeks have written articles asserting that lost business expenses won’t be covered under business interruption clauses in property insurance policies.

“It depends on the policy, but a lot of that advice is misrepresentation,” he said.

Policies, such as the one issued to Oceana Grill, include coverage for losses due to civil authority shutdowns, he said.

A spokesman for Lloyd’s said the market does not comment on litigation.

More insurance and risk management news on the coronavirus crisis here.