The French insurer Axa has long writhed when restaurant owners asked for compensation due to the pandemic-related business closings.

But now he is opening his coffers a little: On Thursday, the second largest provider in Europe announced that it would be paying out a total of 300 million euros to 15,000 restaurant operators in France.

That makes an average of 20,000 euros per policyholder.

“In view of the legal uncertainty”, Axa suggests this “solution”, the company announced.

Christian Schubert

Business correspondent in Paris.

  • Follow I follow

    The insurer is trying to break the wave of lawsuits that has hit him.

    1,500 restaurant owners have taken legal action, some won in the first instance, three also on appeal.

    The costs now incurred should be offset by the "favorable developments this year" associated with the decline in the pandemic in France and Europe, reports the Axa.

    Salmonella, not pandemic

    The French insurer had previously argued that a pandemic was beyond the power of the insurance community. Such risks could not have been foreseen and were not covered by corresponding premium payments. Other policyholders who are not similarly affected by Covid-19 should not be held responsible, said the Axa. A pandemic is therefore expressly excluded in many contracts. They contained the clause that the insurer would not pay as soon as another company in the region was affected by the same phenomenon. The contracts that many restaurant operators have concluded are intended more for cases such as closure after salmonella poisoning.

    “An insurer has to follow the contract - for the benefit of the insurance collective. A few contracts, on the other hand, are not formulated very clearly. At Axa France we're talking about fewer than 2,000 contracts, ”said Axa CEO Thomas Buberl in an interview with the FAZ at the beginning of the year. He also said that some judicial defeats in the first instance “say little because the commercial courts in France are led by lay judges”. And he complained that "2 or 3 percent of the cases in the media get 90 percent speaking".

    But now the Axa is making a U-turn to avoid further damage to its reputation.

    Two courts of appeal in France had dealt with the closings.

    A court in Aix-en-Provence ruled in favor of three restaurant owners, another in Bordeaux found the Axa right.

    Now the company is expressly offering a solution not only to the companies making the claim, but to all restaurant operators insured with it with a contract against losses in the event of administratively ordered company closings.

    The amount of the compensation depends on the sales losses;

    Up to 15 percent of the lost daily turnover will be compensated for up to a maximum of 6 months in the two administratively decided closure periods from 2020 and 2021, said an Axa spokeswoman.

    Silence in Germany

    In Germany, too, many restaurant owners have sued the insurers. The Munich Regional Court ruled in two cases in their favor with a lot of signal effect. "Overall, the case law is still in flux here in Germany, there are some positive, but also some negative judgments," reports lawyer Eva Birkmann from the Brüllmann law firm in Stuttgart. According to their estimates, there have already been more than 100 judgments on this subject in Germany, and further proceedings are pending.

    “The problem here is the different insurance conditions of the various insurances and the multitude of different insurances. The outcome of the decision also depends on the court in question. As long as there is no decision by the BGH, in my opinion there will be no comprehensive comparisons, ”says Birkmann. However, comparisons have already been made - in some cases with non-disclosure clauses. This is why the topic rarely gets into the public eye in Germany.

    In France, the first reactions to the alleged beneficiaries of the payments on Thursday were initially cautious: “We are now looking at the details.

    It cannot be ruled out that some innkeepers will continue to take legal action;

    some have accumulated debts of 20,000 euros or more, ”said Marc Sanchez, general secretary of an association of small independent companies.

    Soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, Axa had called for an industry-wide solution with the participation of the public sector, similar to insurance against terrorism.

    The private sector could not cope with this task alone, said Axa boss Buberl.