Law360 (June 10, 2020, 7:49 PM EDT) -- Travel insurer Assicurazioni Generali Group was hit with a proposed class action in New York federal court on Wednesday accusing it of wrongfully withholding insurance premiums paid for trips canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suit alleges that Generali has refused to provide any refunds for premiums paid to cover the canceled trips despite consumers' "numerous requests," and has instead been giving out vouchers that require rebooking by the end of the year.
Howard Morris of Naples, Florida, bought a $1,298 travel insurance policy with Generali in mid-February when he purchased a Seabourn cruise to travel from Rome to Greece between April 29 and May 9, according to the suit.
After he learned of his trip's cancellation in late March, Morris immediately contacted Generali to ask for reimbursement of the policy, according to the complaint. Yet Generali never responded to his repeated voice and email messages throughout April, Morris said.
The Florida resident said he bought the travel insurance to protect himself from risks that may happen during the trip. Because of COVID-19, he was prevented from making the trip, so Generali's withholding of premiums paid for the trips is "unlawful" and "inequitable."
The insurance group announced in early May that it would issue vouchers for trips booked by Dec. 31 to policyholders whose trips are canceled due to COVID-19.
"Given that the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the travel industry and global economy, this token gesture is unlikely to provide any meaningful value to the plaintiff and the class," Morris said. He is seeking to represent a nationwide class or a Florida subclass of everyone who bought travel insurance from Generali and had their trips canceled due to the pandemic.
Headquartered in Trieste, Italy, Generali is one of the largest insurance companies in the world, with more than 61 million global customers, and more than 70,000 staff, according to its website.
Morris argued that Generali has been "unjustly" retaining refunds of premiums paid for trips that never happened, and the insurance group never assumed the covered losses.
"Such premiums are unearned inasmuch as defendants were never at risk of having to cover the perils of actual travel," he claimed, adding that the bulk of his policy covers risks that occur during or after the trip. Morris contended that only 0.77% of the policy pays for a pre-departure risk such as trip cancellation.
"Defendants are obligated to return that portion of the gross premium that plaintiff and the class paid for benefits exclusively covering post-departure risks that defendants never assumed," Morris said in the complaint.
Bryan Clobes, an attorney representing Morris, said in an email statement that "the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the global economy but that does not give businesses the right to shift the burden of this health crisis onto its customers, who, in some cases, paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to insure travel plans that never began."
Morris is asking the court to hold that Generali should refund him and the class members their premiums paid for post-departure travel risks, and demanding damages and monetary relief to be determined in a jury trial.
Generali could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Howard Morris is represented by David E Kovel of Kirby McInerney LLP, Bryan L. Clobes of Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLP, and Joeseph Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf LLC.
Counsel information for Generali could not immediately be determined.
The case is Morris v. Assicurazioni Generali Group, S.p.A. et al., case number 1:20-cv-04430, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
--Editing by Kelly Duncan.
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