Düsseldorf, Frankfurt March 21 was over. The Berlin restaurateur Ludger Gawlitta has had no guests since that day. Not in the “Kantine Deluxe”, which he has been operating on Hackescher Markt for six years, and not in the branch at the main train station that opened two years ago. For the past six weeks, Gawlitta has hoped that things will go on at some point – and he will hold out until then.
Actually, the Berliner thought, he was protected. The 45-year-old had signed a company closure policy, which should intervene in such a case. “The insurance conditions expressly state that epidemics are insured under the Infectious Disease Protection Act,” says Gawlitta. But the insurance industry sees it differently. It only wants to compensate for a fraction of Gawlitta’s sales losses that arose from the corona virus.
From the perspective of many insurers, most policies ensure that a shop is closed because an infection such as Salmonella breaks out in the pub. But it is usually not covered if the state preemptively closes the restaurant out of fear of a pandemic. In addition, many restaurants would not be completely closed, but would still deliver food to customers. However, this is not taken into account in most clauses.
However, there are company closure policies that include opening clauses – and in this case, payments are made without hesitation. “There is no general answer to the question of whether and how the coronavirus is covered by the company closure insurance,” said a spokesman for the lobby association GDV.
Like Gawlitta, there are several thousand restaurateurs. The industry association Dehoga estimates the number of restaurant, snack bar or café operators affected by the pandemic to be around 165,000 across Germany. In addition to the tourism and aviation industry, there is probably no other branch of the economy that has been caught as hard by the corona crisis as the catering trade.
Many companies now not only have existential needs, they are also clinching their insurance. The Dehoga estimates that there are between 25,000 and 40,000 companies with a corresponding policy. “A few hundred companies are ready to sue or have already taken appropriate steps,” says Ingrid Hartges, general manager of the Dehoga federal association.
Lawyers encourage lawsuits
A compromise in Bavaria should actually ensure calm. Afterwards, the insurers wanted to take over between 10 and 15 percent of the daily rates agreed for the closings and pay them out to the restaurants and hotels. From the point of view of everyone involved, the result was a “viable and sensible solution for both industries,” commented Bavaria’s Minister of Economic Affairs Hubert Aiwanger (free voters) on the compromise reached. But that’s not enough for many innkeepers.
The business law firm Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein therefore expects many lawsuits from companies whose insurers do not want to enter. Because many lawyers encourage them to do so. Hans-Georg Jenssen, lawyer and executive board member of the Federal Association of German Insurance Brokers, sees this more skeptically. He only estimates the chances of success for many contracts at 50:50 and believes that complaining customers have to wait many years for their money.
The insurers see themselves in the right. “In most cases, pandemics are not insured as a reason for a state-wide company closure,” said Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte at the annual general meeting this week. This was obviously not clear to some customers. However, the industry cannot provide insurance cover for which no premium has been paid. “That would pull the ground out of our industry,” warned Bäte.
The world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re, is also opposed to political demands to have the industry pay for uninsured corona damage. “Retroactive intervention in contracts is incompatible with principles of the rule of law,” CEO Joachim Wenning said a few days ago at his company’s online general meeting.
Gastronomy is preparing for reopening
This argument has only limited understanding among those affected. Gawlitta argues with the Zurich Insurance. When he talks about their handling of his case, the anger is clearly noticeable. Since he had to close his restaurants on official orders in mid-March, he has not made any sales. A large part of the costs, on the other hand, continue to run, for personnel and for rent, even if the landlord Gawlitta will probably accommodate them.
In Gawlitta’s opinion, Zurich Insurance’s policy is actually clearly regulated to cover the loss of net sales in the event of a business shutdown, in Gawlitta’s case this is 140,000 to 150,000 euros per month.
But when Gawlitta reported the insured event, he received a removal. Zurich refused to regulate the damage, the closure by the corona pandemic was not covered. “It is completely incomprehensible to me. I have taken out insurance to cover such a risk. And when it does, does the insurer let you down? Incredible, ”says Gawlitta.
Zurich has since made a comparison offer. They are ready to compensate 15 percent of the loss of sales, in Gawlitta’s case around 22,000 euros per month. For the Berliner, this is out of the question: “Zurich is proving to be a poor contractual partner. It’s about my existence, I feel deceived. “
The insurer rejects the allegations. “The corona epidemic is not mentioned in our policies. Zurich is therefore of the opinion that business closures due to the virus are not covered. ”Often it is about the small print. The insurance industry insists that some policies have opening clauses for diseases – and others do not. If the contracts explicitly only mention a certain number of diseases that are covered and no extension has been agreed, insurers often refuse to pay.
Lawyers such as the Düsseldorf lawyer Mark Wilhelm, who has called for lawsuits against insurers on the Internet, consider this reason to be untenable. “Of course, the Covid 19 virus cannot be named in the policies, after all nobody knew it until a few months ago,” says Wilhelm, who advises many restaurateurs. Gawlitta is also one of his clients.
Insurers consider themselves generous
Zurich and other insurers do not contest this. “Such a case of preventive closures to curb a pandemic is not insured or cannot be insured at all,” emphasizes a Zurich spokesman. Nevertheless, Zurich shows social responsibility in this crisis. “As a rule, we therefore voluntarily assume 15 percent of our customers’ lost sales.” The insurers consider themselves generous. Although they do not think they have to pay at all, some want to pay a small portion of their customers’ damage.
The 15 percent rule is based on the Bavarian compromise. A model calculation shows that the insurance companies want to take on 15 percent of the damage caused to the companies by the corona-related closures. The logic of the parties involved is that the state is already making up for a large part of the damage, for example through short-time benefits or emergency aid. In addition to Zurich, Allianz, the Versicherungskammer Bayern and Signal Iduna also took part in the negotiations.
Allianz in Bavaria expects “voluntary” payments for bankruptcy-threatened innkeepers and hoteliers in the high double-digit millions. Other insurers are now based on the deal. “Every entrepreneur is well advised to consider very carefully whether the offer with regard to his contract and the services agreed therein is suitable for him,” Ingrid Hartges of the Federal Association Dehoga is skeptical.
The association believes that the offer is one option, nothing more. “In particular, this” Bavarian Initiative “means that no insurer is released from the obligation to comply with already agreed regulations based on existing contracts,” warns the industry representative.
“Insurers apparently hope that we die”
Gawlitta is convinced that his claims are justified. The business economist, however, suspects that the insurance industry’s defensive stance follows a calculation. “Time is running against us restaurateurs, many have to give up now. We need insurance money quickly. Insurance companies like Zurich obviously hope that we will run out of air and die, ”says Gawlitta.
However, this calculation does not have to work, especially since the situation for the restaurateurs should relax soon. Because on the other hand, relief is emerging. The Federal Government holds out prospect of further aid for restaurants and hotels in the corona crisis. These sectors are particularly affected, even if they are now being reopened step by step, said the Federal Government’s SME and Tourism Commissioner, Thomas Bareiß (CDU). The economics ministers of the federal states will also strive for a nationwide controlled opening of the hospitality industry in the coming weeks.
As nationwide pioneers in the corona crisis, restaurants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have reopened since Saturday. In North Rhine-Westphalia, restaurants and cafés have been allowed to open since this Monday, Baden-Württemberg wants to allow the restaurants to operate before Pentecost.
From May 25, “we think it is justifiable to open restaurants” – subject to conditions, it is also said in Bavaria. Accordingly, the number of guests should be limited, distances are important and kitchen staff and waiters must wear masks, said Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU). The air for hosts like Gawlitta could therefore last longer than he feared – and thus also their strength to fight the dispute in court.
More: What Corona costs insurers