It is a court decision that should interest all restaurateurs penalized by Covid-19. The Tarascon commercial court on Monday ordered the insurer Axa to compensate a restaurateur in the Alpilles for his losses related to the coronavirus. Jean-Michel Alazard, the owner of La Bergerie, in Mouriès, in the Bouches-du-Rhône, attacked his insurer, believing that his contract allowed him to be covered in the event of an epidemic. But Axa defended himself by invoking a different meaning of the term. The judgment could set a precedent as several restaurateurs have taken their case to court.
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A "relief" for the restaurateur
In this case, it's all about interpretation. Jean-Michel Alazard attacked his insurer Axa, which he accuses of not having respected his commitments. The contract which binds them indeed provided for compensation for operating losses due to a closure "taken by a competent administrative authority", closure which would be in particular "the consequence of an epidemic". Except that Axa has brought into play a guarantee exclusion clause included in the contract, ruling out compensation in the event that the closure decision concerns at least one other establishment in the same department as that of the insured establishment.
A situation which obviously occurred during the national confinement in March. But the court ruled that the clause in question "would necessarily have the effect of voiding the guarantee owed by Axa". In other words, that it is not compatible with the concept of epidemic. He therefore ordered the insurer to pay 114,105 euros to the restaurant owner. "It's a great relief for my client," responded to the microphone of Europe 1 the restaurant owner's lawyer, Me Jean-Pierre Tertian.
Towards a case law in favor of restaurateurs?
The council now hopes that the decision will set a precedent, while Axa is being sued by several restaurateurs, some of whom have been dismissed. "If I took this action, it is because I think that indeed an insurer cannot guarantee an operating loss following closure for epidemic and limit this epidemic to the only establishment concerned", he affirms . "The court considered that the concept of epidemic, as long as it is not defined contractually, should be the most common, that is to say the spread in very large numbers of a contagious disease. therefore no longer speaks of listeriosis or legionellosis. "
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An owner of several Parisian establishments and a couple of Beaujolais restaurateurs had already won their case in court before the summer, for similar cases. On the other hand, the starred chef Michel Sarran, in Toulouse, was dismissed in mid-August. And this is why we must remain cautious with regard to possible case law. In the wake of the Tarascon judgment, another was handed down in Bourg-en-Bresse, in Ain, for a similar case. And the restaurateur, also insured by Axa, was dismissed.
Two courts, two interpretations of the same clause
The Bourg-en-Bresse court ruled that the warranty exclusion clause "defines the precise conditions of its scope and restricts the geographical scope to the same department as the establishment concerned". "The court also notes that the terms used in the exclusion clause are perfectly understandable and allowed the insured to know the limits of the cover which was granted to him", he also notes in his judgment.
"We take note with satisfaction of the judgment of the Bourg-en-Bresse commercial court which confirms the validity of the exclusion clause of our standard contract in an extremely clear and reasoned manner", reacted a spokesperson for Axa from AFP. "Our contract provides very explicitly that administrative closures affecting several establishments for the same reason in the same department are not covered," she recalled.