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Insurers push back in COVID-19 coverage case


An insurer facing a coronavirus-related business interruption case and various industry trade groups filed arguments Thursday urging a state high court not to fast-track the litigation process.

In the case Joseph Tambellini Inc. d/b/a Joseph Tambellini Restaurant v Erie Insurance Exchange, originally filed in state court in Pittsburgh last month, the policyholder sought to move the case directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In an application for extraordinary relief filed April 29, the restaurant argued its case presents issues of importance to “all citizens of the Commonwealth who are seeking recompense from their insurers for the losses, damage and expenses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related governmental Orders.”

Dozens of small businesses, including several in Pennsylvania, have filed various lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking business interruption coverage for income lost due to restrictions on business operations imposed by government authorities seeking to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses need immediate resolution of the insurance disputes as they seek to restart their operations and moving the case directly to the state’s high court will eliminate potential years of delay that could result from the appeals process, the restaurant argued.

In its response filed on Thursday, Erie Insurance contends, among other things, that the case is a contractual dispute that should be heard through the established court process and that the various lawsuits filed against insurers in the coronavirus disputes involve a wide variety of policy forms, endorsements and exclusions.

“The idea that any court can … issue sprawling industry-wide rulings that will adjudicate potentially thousands of unknown disputes involving myriad contract forms, an exponential number of different types of businesses, and varying underlying facts is, respectfully, unthinkable,” Erie’s filing states. 

The Tambellini case will turn on the language of the Ultrapack Plus Commercial General Liability Policy it bought from Erie, which includes property coverage, and a decision in the case will not have broad applicability in other COVID-19 coverage disputes where different insurers and policies are involved, court papers say.

American International Group Inc. and various insurer trade associations, including the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies filed amicus briefs supporting opposing the restaurant’s application to move the case to the state Supreme Court.

More insurance and risk management news on the coronavirus crisis here