In two separate petitions, the Oklahoma tribes asked the court for judgments declaring that their insurance policies cover any losses and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and that AIG, Lloyd's of London and other insurance companies named as defendants be responsible for the losses.
Both the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations have temporarily closed their casinos and other businesses, including restaurants, in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to their websites.
The suit names AIG unit Lexington Insurance Co., various underwriters at Lloyd's of London, Arch Specialty Insurance, Allied World National Assurance, Liberty Mutual, XL Insurance America, Homeland Insurance Co. of New York, Hallmark Specialty Insurance Co., Endurance Worldwide Insurance Ltd. and Evanston Insurance Co. as defendants.
Last week, tribal leaders said the federal government must act decisively to uphold its trust duty to tribes during the coronavirus pandemic and can start by factoring shuttered tribal casinos into any business stimulus plan and providing health services and money to struggling tribal employees and members.
While the administration puts together a plan to pump $1 trillion into the economy as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens in the U.S., tribal governments nationwide are trying to figure out how they can cope with a public health crisis while facing steep losses in revenue after closing most of their casinos in the past week.
Casinos, like cruise lines, sports leagues and other industries dependent on large crowds, have been especially hard hit by the pandemic.
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan, who also serves as an officer in the Chickasaw Nation's commerce department, said public health "is of the utmost concern to all of us," and trying to address that while also protecting the tribes' business interests "is a difficult equation to balance right now."
The accelerating economic and health toll of the crisis prompted a call on March 17 from the National Indian Gaming Association for tribes to receive $18 billion from the federal government to offset their casino closures.
A White House press representative said in a statement last week that the administration is "going to ensure that we take care of all Americans, including affected industries and small businesses, and that we emerge from this challenge stronger and with a prosperous and growing economy."
"No other administration has been as transparent and as accessible," the White House said, pointing to its coronavirus press conferences and "regular briefings with state and local officials, members of Congress, tribal leaders, and various industry stakeholder groups to ensure they have the most up-to-date information on the virus."
However, the National Congress of American Indians said Wednesday that tribal nations "have been left out of the conversation" around the COVID-19 pandemic and face "inadequate federal funding."
Counsel for the tribes and representatives for AIG, Lloyd's of London, Arch Specialty Insurance, Allied World National Assurance, Liberty Mutual and XL Insurance America did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
Contact information for Homeland Insurance Co. of New York, Hallmark Specialty Insurance Co., Endurance Worldwide Insurance Ltd. and Evanston Insurance Co. was not immediately available.
The tribes are represented by Michael Burrage, Reggie Whitten, J. Revell Parrish, Patricia A. Sawyer, Austin Vance and J. Renley Dennis of Whitten Burrage Law Firm.
Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.
The cases are Chickasaw Nation Department of Commerce v. Lexington Insurance Co. et al., case number cv-20-35, in the District Court of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma v. Lexington Insurance Co., case number cv-20-42, in the District Court of Bryan County, Oklahoma.
--Additional reporting by Andrew Westney and Andrew Kragie. Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.
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