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Rep. Mike Thompson introduces bill to help businesses with COVID-19 insurance claims

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would reimburse insurance carriers who voluntarily pay out their business interruption claims tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation builds on an earlier Thompson effort in April that would have required insurance companies selling business interruption insurance to cover business losses resulting from a pandemic.

In the latest, more targeted version, the federal government would create a voluntary program that would reimburse carriers who voluntarily pay out their business interruption claims for COVID-19 closures. The sector has refused to cover such claims, resulting in a flurry of lawsuits against insurance companies across the country.

Eligible firms would be those with business interruption coverage before the pandemic, with language that includes civil authority shutdowns, but not specifically for virus-related damages.

“So many businesses in our district and across our nation have been forced to temporarily close their doors to help keep employees and customers safe during the coronavirus-related shutdowns. And when those businesses have filed claims under previously purchased business interruption insurance, they are often having difficulty getting those claims honored,” Thompson said in a statement. “This leads to confusion and a tough economic hit for businesses that are already struggling.”

Thompson has been at the forefront of the issue as he represents many high-profile restaurants in his district, including Yountville’s famed The French Laundry.

Chef Thomas Keller, owner of The French Laundry and other highly lauded restaurants, this spring sued his insurer, Hartford Fire Insurance Co., in an attempt to force the carrier to cover his losses caused by the coronavirus.

The French Laundry closed in mid-March as a result of the shutdown, but will begin its first service on July 8 and continue to operate five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday, according to its website.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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