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Coronavirus Battle: Chef Thomas Keller Suing Insurance Company For Denying Claim

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A restaurant battle looming as a chef fights his insurance company for refusing to cover his losses during the coronavirus crisis.

Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley laid off nearly all his 450 employees at three locations.

"One day, you are doing business. You have revenue. And the next day, there is nothing," Keller said.

He says he filed a claim with his insurance company and was denied.

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"This is a time of crisis right now. And we need, we need help," Keller said.

Business interruption insurance, coverage designed to replace business income lost in a disaster, is at issue.

Jimi Grande is the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. He says most insurance contracts don't cover viruses or pandemics.

"Business interruption never contemplated anything of the size and scope of a pandemic virus. It's fundamentally uninsurable," Grande said.

Instead, his group and others want the government to set up a recovery fund for businesses, backed by taxpayer dollars.

"They're the only people that have enough size and scale. We're talking about trillions of dollars," Grande said.

But Thomas Keller says he did have virus coverage and paid extra for it. His insurer Hartford wouldn't comment, but in Keller's policy, there's this language: "We will pay for loss or damage by fungus, wet rot, dry rot, bacteria and virus."

He is now suing.

CBS13 reached out to the California Department of Insurance to find out what they're doing about this. The agency says insurers must investigate every claim fairly, and the commissioner will make sure that happens.

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