He's one of hundreds of independent restaurant owners who have failed to recover any insurance compensation.
Not one to shy away from the pursuit of justice, José Andrés is suing his restaurants’ insurance company, alleging they've refused to pay out any COVID-19 insurance claims. On Wednesday, July 29, the celebrity chef and humanitarian filed a lawsuit on behalf of 16 of his restaurants against Travelers Insurance Company for losses suffered from the pandemic. His lawyers tell Food & Wine that the company has not paid “one cent” to Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup, despite collecting $456,155 in insurance premiums so far this year.
“For over 22 years, our company has consistently paid considerable annual premiums for business interruption insurance from Travelers and now is the time for them to fulfill their obligation,” said Andrés in a statement. He is joined by Washington D.C.-based restaurant Central Michel Richard, as well as Dallas-based restaurant Salum, which have both filed lawsuits against Travelers Insurance Company.
And they’re not alone. “Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed throughout the country by restaurants large and small whose insurers will not pay losses under business interruption policies,” attorney Geoffrey Graber tells Food & Wine. He’s a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which is representing both ThinkFoodGroup and Central Michel Richard. Notable other restaurants include Chez Panisse, The French Laundry, Musso and Frank, and Legal Seafoods, which have all taken their insurers to court to try to recover a fraction of the industry’s estimated $145 billion dollar loss.
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In Andrés’s case, his policies include all-risk coverage. However, the insurance company is requiring “visible physical damage” in order to make a payout, Graber explains, though the “policies certainly do not say this.” He adds that insurance companies use this same argument with other situations in which physical damage is hard to prove, like forced evacuations.
Graber states that no insurance companies thus far have stepped up to make a pandemic-related payout, effectively presenting a united front. Still, he’s pretty confident in the chance of success. “It is hard to imagine that after reviewing the policy language and comparing the equities, courts across the country will allow insurance carriers to sit on hundreds of billions of dollars held in reserve for just such a situation,” he says.
He estimates Andrés’s losses are “in the millions, and continue to climb.”
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