Holocaust Org. Sues Chubb For Coronavirus Coverage Denial

By Mike LaSusa
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Law360 (April 29, 2020, 10:29 PM EDT) -- The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Holocaust awareness organization's film arm sued Chubb on Wednesday in California federal court, claiming the insurer had wrongly denied coverage for business interruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the famous Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, said that its policy with Chubb Group of Insurance Companies/Federal Insurance Co. has a "civil authority" provision that provides for coverage in situations where public officials order closures, as Los Angeles county has done with a "safer at home" order meant to curb the spread of the virus.

The center said that Chubb has nonetheless refused to pay out what it should under the policy, even though the order has "shuttered all income producing arms of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles."

"As a result of the civil authority shutdown, plaintiffs' 2020 National Tribute Dinner honoring George and Amal Clooney, 2020 address by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Museum of Tolerance, all New York fundraising events, and Museum of Tolerance Programs have been cancelled," the center said.

The organization said the policy should cover the interruptions related to the coronavirus outbreak because the virus "creates a physical impact and loss on property as it alters surfaces, limiting or prohibiting the intended use of property and causing a dangerous property condition."

"While some rogue media outlets have called the 2019-2020 coronavirus ... an exaggerated mass hysteria that will unlikely create significant physical damage, the scientific community, and those personally affected by the virus, recognize the coronavirus as a global pandemic causing real physical loss and damage," the center said.

John W. Houghtaling of Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling LLC, who represents the center, told Law360 on Wednesday that he considers the insurance company's actions "disgusting."

"They continue to lie about the policies, lie about the exclusions, deny coronavirus causes a dangerous property condition in the area. And they've got no facts, they're got no legal basis whatsoever to deny these claims," he said.

Chubb said Wednesday it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Houghtaling is currently working on other suits in which he's taking on insurers for coronavirus-related coverage denials.

He was behind the first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed in March by a New Orleans restaurant asking a state judge to hold that its Lloyd's of London policy will cover its losses due to government-mandated closures tied to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

He's also representing a pair of Napa Valley-based French restaurants owned by prominent chef Thomas Keller. They're suing Hartford Fire Insurance Co. in California state court, seeking a ruling that the insurer must cover the eateries' losses due to government-mandated closures.

The Wiesenthal Center is represented by John W. Houghtaling, Kevin R. Sloan and Jennifer Perez of Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling LLC, and Larry C. Russ, Nathan D. Meyer and Justin E. Maio of Russ August & Kabat.

Counsel information for Chubb wasn't immediately available on Wednesday.

The case is Simon Wiesenthal Center Inc. et al v. Chubb Group of Insurance Companies/Federal Insurance Company, case number 2:20-cv-03890, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Additional reporting by Jeff Sistrunk. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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