LOS ANGELES, Calif. — This restaurant became Bret and Lucy Thompson’s baby when they opened it nearly five years ago and now they’re fighting to keep it alive.
“To have it close, I feel like I went into a small depression,” said Lucy Thompson.
The married couple temporarily closed their restaurant Pez Cantina to protect the safety of their employees and customers while following the statewide order to close non-essential businesses.
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Bret called their insurance company, Travelers, also known as the Travelers Indemnity Company, to see if their business interruption insurance could help them with some relief during this time. Thompson says Travelers’ answer was no.
“It was really clear that they didn’t want to have any part of covering any of the business interruption losses or any of the food spoilage losses,” said Bret Thompson.
Business Interruption Insurance is a clause designed to cover a retail business’ loss of income after a disaster. However, following the SARS outbreak, many insurance companies made changes to their policies to exclude viruses and bacterial outbreaks.
The Thompsons say they’ve applied for grants and made requests to defer payments for as long as possible. With nowhere else to turn, they reached out to consumer attorney Brian Kabateck to help them file a lawsuit against Travelers.
“Nobody has had a single insurance company say 'we’re going to pay your claim. Don’t worry. We’re going to help you. We’re going to take care of you.' Not a single one has said that,” said Kabateck.
The attorney is working on about 100 similar cases in different states. He says businesses like the Thompsons' are interrupted as a result of an order made by a civil authority, like the ones issued by cities and counties in the wake of the health crisis.
“I think they know that these claims are ultimately going to be covered and they’re going to have to face the music on it, but right now they want the word out: 'We’re not paying claims so people don’t even bother to make claims,'” said Kabateck.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Travelers. The company’s head of media relations, Matt Bordonaro, issued the following statement:
"We recognize that the spread of COVID-19 has affected many of us in ways we never could have expected, and we are taking many steps to support our customers, agents, brokers and communities during this difficult time. In our standard commercial property policies that include business interruption coverage, we have very specific exclusions stating that losses resulting from a virus or bacteria are not covered.”
The company posted a letter that was sent to customers in New York online. Bordonaro explains these two paragraphs explain the company’s position on business interruption:
“Insurance for business interruption can provide coverage when a policy holder suffers a loss of income due to direct physical loss or damage to covered property at its location or another location. It does not cover loss of income due to market conditions, a slowdown of economic activity or a general fear of contamination. Nor does the policy provide coverage for cancellations, suspensions and shutdowns that are implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus. These are not a result of direct physical loss or damage. Accordingly, business interruption losses resulting from these types of events do not present covered losses under our property coverage forms.
Even if there has been direct physical loss or damage to property, your policy contains a number of exclusions that are likely to apply to business interruption losses. The most important exclusion to note is the exclusion for losses resulting from a virus or bacteria, which would include coronavirus.”
The letter can be found online. The Thompsons say they’re disappointed, but they’re determined to make a comeback.
They’re getting their restaurant ready for a grand re-opening on May 4 for Cinco De Mayo, where they will take curbside take out and delivery orders as a way to welcome back their customers and to remind themselves why they created Pez Cantina in the first place.
It’s always been about their love for Mexican food, culture and sharing their meals with the world.
To support the couple’s small business by making a curbside or delivery order, please call (213) 258-2280.
Pez Cantina is located on 401 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90071.