Restaurant gets nonstop calls after AXA ordered to pay its virus claims

A man riding his scooter past a closed restaurant on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris last March. (AP pic)

PARIS: AXA will meet the bulk of business interruption claims from some restaurant owners in France, it said on Tuesday, after losing a court case seen as a potential precedent for coronavirus-related disputes across the world.

A Paris court ruled last week that AXA should pay a restaurant owner two months of revenue losses caused by the virus pandemic. AXA had argued its policy did not cover business disruption caused by the health crisis.

Stephane Manigold, the owner of four Paris restaurants who brought the case against the French insurer, told Reuters that since the court decision his team had received calls from Britain, South Africa, Spain and the United States asking for details of his contract and the court’s ruling.

“This decision in Paris has a global resonance,” he said.

A UK trade body, the Night Time Industries Association, which is also considering action against insurers, told Reuters the Paris case bodes well for their cause.

“It absolutely strengthens the case for legitimate claims to be considered in the UK, and I am sure that there are some legal parallels being drawn from the case against AXA in France,” the association’s chief executive, Michael Kill, told Reuters.

In Britain, the financial regulator has also turned to the courts to try to gain clarity on whether insurers should pay out coronavirus-related claims to small businesses.

AXA has said it will appeal against the Paris ruling, but Chief Executive Thomas Buberl on Tuesday said that the company was seeking an amicable solution and planned to meet the bulk of claims from restaurant owners whose contracts contained some ambiguity.

“These contracts represent less than 10% out of total contracts with restaurant owners and I am confident that we will find a solution,” Buberl said.

“We want to compensate a substantial part of these contracts; we want to do it quickly”.

Some other French insurers have said they will pay out business interruption losses to some customers, depending on specific contracts. Generali France, for example, has said it will make payments to 600 hospitality businesses.

“I think this decision will reignite the debate,” Emilie Martin, an insurance agent and associate at Dijon-based Spiegel Bletry Martin, said of the Paris court decision.

AXA also said it would provide a further €500 million in aid for small companies, on top of plans already announced by French insurers to invest €1.7 billion in domestic companies.

“The idea is clearly to reinforce those companies that are weakened by this crisis,” Buberl said.