Insurance Suits Aim For MDL Over COVID-19-Canceled Trips

By Mike Curley
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Law360 (August 17, 2020, 6:54 PM EDT) -- A proposed class of travelers is asking the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate a group of suits against the American unit of Assicurazioni Generali Group, saying consolidation is appropriate to streamline claims that the insurer failed to pay up on policies for trips canceled because of COVID-19.

In a motion filed Friday, the named plaintiff in one of the cases, Tralisa Sheridan, told the panel that all of the plaintiffs she seeks to group together made nearly identical claims, all against CSA Travel Protection, that stem from insurance policies with the same terms.

Sheridan aims to bring together eight suits from Texas, Kansas, South Carolina, California, Ohio, Illinois and New York, as well as any additional suits that are filed, in the Eastern District of Texas, because that district is centralized geographically and is the only district that's already hearing multiple cases in the proposed MDL.

Because of the overlapping claims and the single defendant, the cases are ripe for consolidation that would simplify discovery orders and prevent contradictory pretrial rulings, Sheridan said, adding the Eastern District of Texas currently has no other MDLs going on, and so should have no trouble coordinating this one.

In the suits, the named plaintiffs allege they paid a premium for trip cancellation policies, and their trips were subsequently called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, either because of government-enacted travel restrictions or health issues stemming from the pandemic.

CSA, however, has denied the claims, saying the pandemic was a foreseeable event as of Jan. 29, 2020. In each suit, the policyholders are asking the courts to declare that CSA must cover their expenses for the canceled trips.

Because the policies are the same form, common questions of fact predominate among the cases, such that consolidating discovery will help both plaintiffs and CSA reduce time, efforts and costs, Sheridan told the panel.

And putting the MDL in Texas would make it more convenient for all of the parties involved, as it is centrally located in the country both for the purposes of in-person hearings and online conferences, Sheridan said.

Derek Potts of the Potts Law Firm, representing Sheridan, told Law360 on Monday that the motion takes into account recent JPML activity with regards to COVID-19 insurance suits by targeting a single insurance company. While the JPML last week rejected a bid to lump COVID-19 business interruption suits against dozens of defendants into one MDL, it allowed that single-defendant MDLs could be viable.

"We are definitely seeing a trend in the travel and vacation rental insurance industry to deny all COVID-19 related cancellation claims, with little or no investigation or review of the claims at all," Potts said in a statement Monday. "In this case, the allegations are basically the same, against one common defendant with the same insurance policy in every case, so we believe that consolidation in the Eastern District is both practical and proper under the law."

Christopher J. Esbrook of Esbrook Law LLC, representing plaintiffs in the Illinois suit, told Law360 on Wednesday that they plan to oppose the MDL, saying his firm is representing Illinois plaintiffs under Illinois law, and he doesn't want to see recovery delayed as the case is "bogged down" by other classes of plaintiffs.

Bryan L. Clobes of Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLP and Daniel L. Germain of Rosman & Germain LLP, representing other plaintiffs, declined to comment Monday.

Representatives for the other plaintiffs and for Generali Group and CSA could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Sheridan is represented by Derek Potts of the Potts Law Firm LLP.

Plaintiffs in the other cases are represented by attorneys with Duncan Law Group LLC, Esbrook Law LLC, Rosman & Germain LLP, Zimmerman Reed LLP, Kirby McInerney LLP, Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLP, Sauder Schelkopf LLC, McCullough Khan LLC, Raizner Slania LLP and Burnett Law Firm.

Generali and CSA are represented by attorneys with Mayer Brown LLP in the underlying cases.

The case is In re: Generali COVID-19 Related Travel Insurance Litigation, case pending number 125, in the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

--Additional reporting by Jeff Sistrunk. Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

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