Celebrity chefs discuss Covid-19 BI cover with Trump

Four internationally acclaimed chefs warned President Donald Trump this week that carriers are hurting the restaurant industry by “wrongfully denying” business interruption (BI) claims from the Covid-19 crisis.
Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dominique Crenn are understood to have discussed BI coverage and non-payment of claims in a call with the president.
The talks mark a significant escalation in a dispute between the hospitality sector and insurers over who should pay for business interruption losses caused by the virus.

The group also supports federal subsidies for insurers that waive exclusions on policies.

Restaurateurs and owners of hospitality businesses, including Thomas Keller and the Oceana Grill in New Orleans, have in recent days launched litigation against insurers in the hope of obtaining court rulings that would force a payout.

Keller said: “The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in America — it’s a chosen profession employing more than 15.6 million Americans and contributes $1tn to the economy. This entire sector is crippled by a nationwide public health shutdown impacting countless livelihoods. We need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”  

Boulud added, "The president took time to listen to us and was very supportive. We provided him why we believed the insurance companies were wrong. He understands insurance and asked to see our policies to read them for himself."

“We cannot be more grateful for his support. The president recognized that some of us have exclusions and some do not, and the insurance companies are denying us all," Boulud said.   

The insurance industry faces a deluge of litigation in the US, much of which centres on whether or not “all risks” policies are triggered by an order from a local mayor or governor that a business must shut its doors.

Another key issue set to be tested in the American courts is whether contamination of premises with coronavirus particles constitutes physical damage.

Legal sources canvassed by this publication say that contamination of premises has in previous cases constituted physical damage but that it remains unclear whether this will trigger BI cover in the case of Covid-19.

More broadly, some federal and state lawmakers have proposed forcing insurers to cover all BI claims from the crisis, even if excluded from their policies – a move that industry groups say would likely threaten the stability of the industry.

Keller is chef-owner of world-famous restaurants, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, and has seven Michelin stars. Boulud owns a clutch of restaurants around the world, including the two-Michelin-star Daniel in New York City.

Last week Keller filed suit against The Hartford, arguing that the carrier should pay for physical and business interruption insurance losses.

The White House did not respond to an emailed request for comment.