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State high court refuses to fast-track COVID insurance case

Posted On: May. 15, 2020 8:30 AM CST

Pa. supreme court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a policyholder’s effort to circumvent lower courts and move its business interruption lawsuit straight to the high court’s docket.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court said an application for extraordinary relief by an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh was denied.

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

In its application for the lawsuit to be fast-tracked to the state’s highest court, the restaurant argued that its case presented issues of importance to many businesses in Pennsylvania that are seeking business interruption coverage from their insurers for income lost due to restrictions imposed by state authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numerous 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.

The policyholders make various allegations in the suits, but common themes in many of them include assertions that the presence of the coronavirus in or around a business constitutes direct physical damage and that the businesses were forced to close by government orders and, therefore, coverage is triggered under the civil authority clause in their commercial insurance policies.

Insurers and insurance trade groups have argued that most policies include an exclusion for losses related to viruses, the presence of the virus does not constitute physical damage, and that many of the businesses are still operating, albeit under restricted conditions, among other things.

In the Tambellini case, Erie argued that it should not be fast-tracked because the various lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania against insurers included a wide variety of wordings, different types of businesses were involved, and underlying facts varied.

American International Group Inc., the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and various state insurance trade associations filed amicus briefs supporting Erie.

More insurance and risk management news on the coronavirus crisis here