French insurance giant Axa said Thursday it will pay 300 million euros to some 15,000 restaurants struggling to cover at least some of their losses because Covid blocked their policies.
The agreement came after Axa faced several lawsuits from restaurant owners who said the insurer was trying to back out of its contractual obligations, putting their livelihoods at risk.
Most of the lawsuits so far have been successful.
“I regret everything that’s happened because we’ve had a disagreement with the restaurants because of a misunderstanding,” Axa CEO Thomas Buberl told Europe 1 Radio, noting that some of the appeals court decisions have been in Axa’s favor.
“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 participate,” he said.
Restaurants were allowed to begin serving customers indoors Wednesday, the first time since October, as France emerges from its third isolation from the coronavirus.
The government has allocated billions of euros to help restaurants and other businesses forced to close in an effort to reduce contamination.
But industry officials say thousands of eateries face huge debts and the prospect of declining revenues in the coming months as capacity levels remain limited for now.
Axa customers sought help through its policy, which included “administrative closure” for a variety of reasons, including shutting down capacity.
Axa declined, citing a clause stating that any shutdown should only apply to an individual covered restaurant, which precludes closure due to a general health emergency.
The company says about 1,500 lawsuits have been filed, the first of which was filed by Paris restaurateur Stephane Manigold, who in May 2020 received 70000 euros to cover losses at his two-star Maison Rostang, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, and three other restaurants.
“This response is not compensation, it is a transaction,” Buberl added.
“We want to accompany our restaurant customers through this opening period, and it’s very important to resolve this issue,” he said.