LONDON — Murray Pulman says he is as tough as they come, but battles with his insurer have left him close to tears after a coronavirus lockdown forced his family-run cafe The Posh Partridge to close.
Pulman was counting himself as one of the lucky ones on Tuesday, however, after a judgment in a London test case against eight insurance firms, including his insurer QBE, held up the promise of a payout on his business interruption policy.
He is among hundreds of thousands of mainly small British businesses now waiting to hear if their insurer will pay out imminently, or keep them hanging while they appeal.
“This has had me close to the edge,” Pulman told Reuters by telephone from Dorchester, southwest England, where the cafe reopened on July 4 after its closure in late March.
QBE said in a statement on Wednesday that the court had ruled in its favor on two out of the three policy wordings examined and it was considering its options to appeal the ruling in favor of policyholders. (Editor’s note: See below for part of QBE’s response to the British court ruling on business interruption claims.)
The cafe, which the 56-year-old started with his 29-year-old daughter Emily four years ago, now runs at half speed to allow social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I will be paid one day … (but) I expect them to run me ragged having to prove this and prove that, prove the other,” he said.
The Posh Partridge was profitable from the start, says Pulman, who paid QBE around 1,350 pounds ($1,736) a year for a business interruption insurance policy for the business.
The terms of the QBE policy said it would pay out if the premises were closed by a local authority as a result of an outbreak of a contagious human disease within a 25 mile (40 km)radius.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the cafe was forced to close, QBE told him he had no valid claim.
The High Court judgment means Pulman could qualify for a payout, pending any appeal, although he will likely remain reliant on volatile takings, which on one day fell as low as 22 pounds ($28), as long as the coronavirus pandemic persists.
“The insurer utterly abandoned us and sought to mitigate their losses to zero,” he said.
“This judgment will not make that go away.”
Dentist Laith Abbas also got an abrupt “no” from QBE when he tried to claim as the government-imposed lockdown in March closed his North London surgery.
When he found his policy didn’t pay out, he led a campaigning group of 2,000 dental practices with business interruption policies to seek redress.
Abbas said Tuesday’s judgment had given its members hope.
“A lot of dentists have suffered in lockdown, and there’s no light in the tunnel with a potential second wave,” he added.
“Business interruption insurance is potentially the only thing that can keep dental practices afloat.”
($1 = 0.7774 pounds)
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley and Carolyn Cohn; editing by Alexander Smith and Jason Neely)
QBE Insurance commented about the British court ruling on business interruption claims:
“The court ruled in favour of QBE with respect to two out of three of QBE’s notifiable disease policy wordings examined and in favour of insurers generally with respect to denial of access policy wordings. However, the Court ruled in favour of insureds with respect to one of QBE’s notifiable disease policy wordings and QBE is considering its options to appeal that decision.
“Based on the notified claims affected by the FCA test case and having regard to individual policy sub-limits, QBE’s estimate of its UK business interruption claims exposure is around $170 million before allowing for recoveries under the Group’s catastrophe reinsurance protections.
“Consistent with the group’s previous announcements, QBE believes that catastrophe reinsurance will limit the net cost of business interruption claims in our UK insurance business to $70 million (which formed part of the $335 million net cost of COVID-19 allowed for in our recently announced 1H20 result).
“The FCA test case decision is highly complex and will take time for the industry to fully consider and for claims to be resolved. All parties involved now have an opportunity to apply to the court for permission to appeal some or all of the ruling with a decision on any such application expected to be made in October. Given the possibility of appeals and further legal action, the estimated gross cost to QBE could increase or decrease, however, the net cost to QBE is not expected to vary.”
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