Axa releases 300 million euros for Covid claims from French restaurants

Insurance giant Axa said today it would pay 300 million euros to some 15,000 French restaurants fighting to have at least some of their losses from Covid closures covered by their policies .

The deal comes as Axa has faced several lawsuits from restaurant owners claiming the insurer was trying to evade its contractual obligations, putting their livelihoods at risk.

So far, most lawsuits have been successful.

“I’m sorry for everything that happened, because we disagreed with the restaurants on a misunderstanding,” Axa chief executive Thomas Buberl told Europe 1 radio, noting that some court decisions of appeal had been in favor of Axa.

“We’re offering a settlement to a lot of people who didn’t ask for anything, even those who lost in court will be able to be part of it,” he said.

Restaurants in France were allowed to start serving customers indoors on Wednesday for the first time since October, as France emerges from a third coronavirus lockdown.

The French government has released billions of euros in aid for restaurants and other businesses forced to close in a bid to slow contagion rates.

But industry officials say thousands of restaurants face huge debt and the prospect of reduced revenue in the coming months as capacity levels remain capped for now.

Axa customers sought relief through their policies which covered “administrative closures” for various reasons, including sanitary closures.

Axa refused, citing a clause specifying that any closure should only apply to the individual covered restaurant, which excluded closures due to a generalized health emergency.

The company says some 1,500 lawsuits have been filed, the first by Parisian restaurateur Stéphane Manigold, who won €70,000 in May 2020 to cover losses at his two-Michelin-starred Maison Rostang and three other restaurants.

“This response is not compensation, it is a transaction,” Buberl added.

“We want to support our restaurant customers during this period of reopening, and it is important to put this difficulty behind us,” he said.