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French restaurant owner takes on insurance giant over lack of coronavirus payouts

The owners of a small restaurant in France's Beaujolais wine region have sued the insurance giant Axa for refusing to cover losses they suffered during more than two months of enforced coronavirus lockdown.

French restaurant owner takes on insurance giant over lack of coronavirus payouts
Restaurants in France have been closed for almost three months. Photo: AFP

Their lawsuit, lodged on Wednesday,  is the latest in a growing battle between insurers and clients brought to their knees by global business closures to halt the Covid-19 pandemic, and comes less than two weeks after a Paris restaurant owner won a similar challenge against Axa.

David Genillon and Valerie Nassi accuse the Paris-based multinational of failing to honour their claim of €17,000, filed for more than two months of lost income after France closed restaurants, bars and all non-essential businesses at the height of the pandemic.

READ ALSO What changes as France moves into phase 2 of lockdown?

 

They have run Le Bacchus, a restaurant in the town of Lancie in eastern France, since 2013, and had taken out a so-called “professional multi-risk” insurance policy with Axa that covers them for losses due to “administrative closure… as a result of contagious disease, murder, suicide, epidemic or poisoning.”

Axa turned down their claim, however, citing an exclusionary clause specifying that any “epidemic” had to be limited to the insured restaurant, and not a generalised shutdown.

“This is an abusive clause, a contractual trick,” the couple's lawyer Jean-Jacques Rinck told journalists at the commercial court of Lyon.   

“Axa knew the company would not pay out by drafting this exclusionary clause. This can be considered a scam,” he added.

Rinck said there were about 50 other similar cases, “and we hope that the decision (of the commercial court) of Lyon will create a legal precedent.”

Genillon said he had felt secure in the knowledge that his restaurant was adequately covered, since the insurance contract specifically mentioned coverage in the case of “epidemic”.

“If we lose, it jeopardises the very existence of our establishment,” he said on exiting the courtroom.

Axa's lawyer Pascal Ormen said the clause was “perfectly valid” and asked the judges to dismiss the case.

“When several establishments are affected (by an epidemic), it is a collective closure, and Axa cannot cover the operating losses,” he argued.

The plaintiffs sought an urgent ruling from the court, which has been set for June 10th.

Last month, Axa lost a similar case to the Parisian restaurateur Stephane Manigold, with a court ordering the insurer to pay some €70,000 in compensation for lost business during the lockdown.

But Ormen said there had been no exclusion clause in Manigold's contract.

The hospitality industry in France was particularly hard hit by a lockdown the government credits with saving tens of thousands of lives, even though it took a huge toll on the economy.

France's tourism sector, including cafes, bars and restaurants, has been promised some €18 billion in government aid.

The industry employs about two million people and represents more than seven percent of gross domestic product in France, one of the world's most visited destinations.

Cafes, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen their doors on Tuesday, though in the Paris region, considered at high risk of ongoing coronavirus spread, eating and drinking establishments can host clients exclusively at outside tables.

READ ALSO French rejoice as bars and restaurants reopen

 

Axa said Wednesday that it expected the coronavirus outbreak to cut its operating profit by some 1.5 billion euros this year, mainly because of claims to cover operating losses and event cancellations.”

The company reported operating profit of €6.5 billion in 2019.

France's FFA insurers' federation has said the coronavirus-related losses of clients – which it estimates at about €60 billion – are too high for insurance companies to be able to cover.

Member comments

  1. Typical Insurance scam. They really are a load of crooks who ALWAYS seem to try to squirm out of claims of insurances that are entered into by the insured in good faith. My insurance paid about half the cost of replacement tiles for the roof after the storm June 2018 on the basis that they were not new but used roof tiles. What the fuck do they think I’m going to do with them? Store them in the basement? I proposed they sourse second hand or not, tiles of the same quality as the ones that were needed to repair the roof. Naturally they declined. I’ve had insurances of various sorts for the last 50 years and I’ve made claims on them from time to time and not one claim has been openly and honestly paid. There is always some small print somewhere. They are scoundrels and cheats the whole lot of them.

  2. This sets a precedent then that this insurance company is worthless. They do not want to pay claims. There are Insurance companies that will accommodate your needs and treat you with respect. You could form a mutual insurance company of business owners.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Natural disaster costs hit 23-year high in France

Natural disasters cost French insurers €10 billion last year, a two-decade high as such events become more frequent and intense, the head of the sector's federation said on Thursday.

Natural disaster costs hit 23-year high in France

“It was an annus horribilis,” France Assureurs president Florence Lustman told Europe 1 radio, citing the hailstorms, floods and droughts that hit the country last year.

Natural disasters cost the industry €3.5 billion on average per year between 2017-2021.

The 2022 figure is the highest since storms pummelled France in 1999.

The insurance federation said the bill from natural disasters will exceed €140 billion over the next 30 years, double the amount for the previous three decades.

Reinsurance giant Swiss Re said in December that natural and man-made catastrophes caused $268 billion of economic losses worldwide in 2022.

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