Geragos' Firm Says Travelers Insurance Must Cover Pandemic

By Hailey Konnath
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Law360 (April 13, 2020, 11:08 PM EDT) -- High-profile criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, his Los Angeles law firm and several other businesses on Friday sued The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut, claiming the insurer is wrongly refusing to cover claims stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Geragos, his firm Geragos & Geragos APC and the businesses — which include downtown Los Angeles restaurant 10e, a cafe and deli in Montrose, and a business center in La Canada Flintridge — lodged five separate suits in Los Angeles County Superior Court. They're each accusing Travelers of failing to honor insurance policies covering businesses losses, coverage that should've been triggered when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an order closing nonessential businesses on March 15, per the suits. 

According to the complaints, the "currently raging pandemic" has caused real physical loss and damage around the world, including at a property Geragos owns in Glendale, California, his law firm's downtown Los Angeles office and at the restaurants and business center. Since Garcetti's order and a subsequent statewide "stay-at-home" order were issued, access to the properties and businesses has been limited or prohibited, the plaintiffs said. Garcetti is also named as a defendant in the suits.

At Geragos' Glendale property, he said he's dealt with unpaid rent and other related issues stemming from tenants no longer using it. Meanwhile, the firm has been dealing with a substantial loss in business traffic and "client/law-related business activities," it said.

The Montrose restaurant and 10e said they've had to mostly shut down during the pandemic. And the business center is also dealing with unpaid rent because tenant access is prohibited, it said.

All the while, Travelers has been accepting premiums for its all-risk policies "with no intention of providing any coverage under the policy's civil authority coverage section due to a loss and shutdown from a virus pandemic," the plaintiffs said in their suits.

"Any effort by Travelers to deny the reality that the coronavirus causes physical loss and damage would constitute a false and potentially fraudulent misrepresentation that could endanger policyholders, such as plaintiff and the public," they said.

The firm, Geragos and the businesses are after declaratory judgment finding that Garcetti's order constitutes a prohibition of access to the insured premises, and that prohibition, therefore, triggers coverage under the policies because they don't include an exclusion for a viral pandemic.

"Resolution of the duties, responsibilities, and obligation of the parties is necessary as no adequate remedy at law exists and a declaration of the court is needed to resolve the dispute and controversy," the plaintiffs said.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Travelers told Law360 on Monday that its standard commercial property policies that include business interruption coverage also have "very specific exclusions stating that losses from a virus or bacteria, including physical damage or income, are not covered."

"We will continue to engage with policymakers and regulators to help them find effective solutions to support businesses in managing through this unprecedented crisis," the spokesperson said.

Counsel for the plaintiffs and Garcetti's office didn't immediately return requests for comment late Monday.

Geragos, his firm and the other plaintiffs are represented by Geragos, Ben J. Meiselas and Matthew M. Hoesly of Geragos & Geragos PC and Harmeet K. Dhillon and Nitoj P. Singh of Dhillon Law Group Inc.

Counsel information for Travelers and Garcetti wasn't immediately available Monday.

The cases are Geragos & Geragos APC. v. The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut et al., case number 20STCV14022; Mark J. Geragos v. The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut, case number unavailable; 2420 Honolulu Ave. LLC v. The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut, case number 20STCV14000; 837 Foothill Blvd. LLC v. The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut, case number 20STCV13929; and 10E LLC v. The Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut, case number 20STCV14043, all in Superior Court of the State of California for Los Angeles County.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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