Restaurant files lawsuit against insurance company over coverage denial

VIDEO: Restaurant files lawsuit against insurance company

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Charleston restaurant is suing its insurance company after being denied coverage for losses related to COVID-19.

Black Magic Café has two locations in the Charleston area and had to shut down both for a while because of the pandemic.

“Business has been absolutely devastated due to the coronavirus and various government orders that have been issued in response to the virus and to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Ross Appel, the attorney on the case.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Black Magic Cafe in federal court last week against The Hartford Financial Services Group and Twin City Fire Insurance Company.

Appel explained Black Magic Café has been paying for Commercial Property Insurance Coverage.

“That contains, among other things, business income coverage in response to what are called civil authority actions,” Appel said. “Essentially when the government imposes restrictions that result in loss of business, these insurance policies are supposed to pay for those losses.”

On March 17, Gov. Henry McMaster closed all food and beverage establishments for dine-in services. A week later, Black Magic Café announced they had to temporarily close both of its locations.

“I think there’s a sense of disappointment that you pay insurance premiums for years and years and years and you hope that when the day comes and you need them that they'll be there for you,” Appel said.

Eron Maron, the owner of Black Magic Café, said he’s frustrated with the entire situation.

“I just think that if we pay insurance all these years, and it’s not cheap, that when we need to use it they will find everything they can to not pay,” Maron said.

According to the lawsuit, the loss of revenue should be covered by insurance. But, the insurance company has denied the claim.

“To the insurance industry's credit, about 15 years ago they started putting in language into these insurance policies that would preclude claims resulting from virus-related losses,” Appel said. “These exclusions were put in after the SARS outbreak in 2003. Now, interestingly enough, this particular insurance policy issue in our case does not contain this infamous virus exclusion. In fact, it contains a special exclusion, that provides limited coverage for virus-related losses.”

It's a reason Appel believes they have a pretty straightforward lawsuit.

“We're just asking a judge to interpret the insurance policy in connection with the claim that we've made and decide whether the policy language places an obligation on the insurance company to pay the coverage,” Appel said. “No more, no less.”

Appel anticipates there are thousands of policies just like this the insurance company could be denying.

“The opportunity to help businesses that are suffering by getting some insurance coverage from them, that they've paid for and are entitled to, would just be a wonderful way to help these folks and help small businesses around the country,” Appel said.

The lawsuit is asking insurance coverage amounts and attorney’s fees. Right now, the ball is in the insurance company’s court to respond to the lawsuit. But Appel said they are preparing for a long battle.

We reached out to The Hartford Financial Services Group about the lawsuit but they did not have a comment on the claim.

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