River Twice, a five-month-old restaurant on East Passyunk Avenue, sued its insurance company to recoup losses resulting from the current ban on dining out. Across the country, insurance companies are denying claims from restaurants that were forced to close in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The River Twice suit was filed on Friday, April 10, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court.
Here’s why this case is different: River Twice owner Lawrence Highbloom opted to sue Admiral Indemnity Company before he even filed a claim.
Like other Philly restaurants, River Twice closed its doors on March 16 when Mayor Jim Kenney ordered restaurants to shutter dining rooms to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Shortly after, Gov. Tom Wolf issued the same order for all of Pennsylvania, followed by a stay-at-home restriction on March 23. While some restaurants are trying to stay afloat by offering takeout and delivery; many others, like River Twice, have closed entirely.
River Twice is run by chef Randy Rucker and Amanda Rucker. The Ruckers are married, and Highbloom, the owner, is Amanda Rucker’s father. In the restaurant versus insurance company battles playing out nationally, insurance companies are arguing that policies cover physical damage, like from a fire, not losses related to a virus. But Highbloom says River Twice’s policy specifically covers loss of income caused by government actions that prevent a business from operating.
Without disclosing how, Highbloom says he learned that Admiral Indemnity Company planned to deny claims filed under the business interruption provisions of the policy. Eater reached out to Admiral and its local partner for comment.
Highbloom’s lawyer, Richard Golomb of Golomb & Honik, PC in Center City, says it’s not uncommon for someone to sue an insurance company before filing an insurance claim, if they know the insurance company plans to deny the claim.
River Twice is seeking a declaratory judgment, asking the court to clarify the insurance company’s obligation here, without ordering a specific action or awarding damages. It’s faster and costs less in legal fees than a traditional breach of contract lawsuit, Golomb explains.
“Like many small businesses,” Highbloom says, “time is of the essence for us.”
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