The excerpted article was written by Al Mancini
Chef Thomas Keller, who operates Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in The Venetian and is planning a new restaurant in Wynn Las Vegas, has filed what could be a groundbreaking lawsuit in a California court, asking for a legally binding decision on whether his business interruption insurance policy allows him to recover business losses suffered in connection with the COVID-19 crisis.
The suit, filed in the Superior Court of California County of Napa, addresses Keller’s policy with Hartford Fire Insurance Company. But the chef’s attorney, John Houghtaling, says there’s an industry-wide issue at stake.
“To avoid payments for a civil authority shutdown, the insurance industry is pushing out deceptive propaganda that the virus does not cause a dangerous condition to property,” Houghtaling said in a statement issued by the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. “This is a lie, it’s untrue factually and legally. The insurance industry is pushing this out to governments and to their agents to deceive policyholders about the coverage they owe.”
Locally, Carson Kitchen’s owner and President Cory Harwell says he hopes Keller’s actions will set a precedent that will aid smaller businesses like his own.
“Without the Thomas Kellers of the world, without somebody blazing that trail for us, the little guy like me can’t really do anything. We’re stuck with whatever the insurance company says. Because we can’t expend our very precious resources that we do have on fighting a fight like this, when those funds are earmarked to try to stay alive, to keep our employees employed, and to keep our businesses afloat.”
Harwell has filed a claim with his insurance company on behalf of his restaurants in Las Vegas and Atlanta, under the terms of his business interruption coverage. He’s fearful, however, of how it will be received.
“Almost all (policies) have an exclusion in them for viruses and bacteria. So their stance on this is that this is an excluded event. And I know that that’s probably what’s coming back to us.”
He doesn’t believe that such a response would be appropriate in the current situation.
“A virus didn’t close my restaurant, the government did,” he explains. “And the government closing my restaurant is a protected event.”
At JRS Hospitality, which has temporarily stopped its operations at Alexxa’s, Beer Park, Cabo Wabo Cantina, Chayo Mexican Kitchen, Hexx Kitchen and Bar and Chateau Nightclub on the Strip, managing partners Corey Jenkins and Matt Silverman are having their attorneys prepare the business interruption insurance claims.
“We have not had a claim rejected,” Silverman explains. “But based on what we’re seeing in the news, we’re preparing for that possibility. That’s why we’re having legal do this for us the correct way, so that we have the best shot.”
“It seems obvious to us,” Jenkins says. “We were prevented from entering the premises and operating our business. That is a business disturbance. And that is exactly what business interruption insurance is for.”