President Trump suggested recently during the White House briefing that insurance companies should pay out business interruption claims related to the coronavirus, even if coverage for a pandemic is not explicitly included in their policy.
New Orleans attorney John W. Houghtaling II told the Claims Journal on Friday that he and several clients — including renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck — participated in a telephone meeting with the president on March 29.
Houghtaling said the White House contacted a group of business owners that had formed to protest insurance claim denials two days prior to that meeting. He said he is not surprised that Trump was interested in the lawsuits, or that he spoke out in defense of businesses that have been denied business-interruption coverage even when the policy does not exclude viruses and pandemics.
Houghtaling said the insurance industry’s play book after every disaster is to grasp for legal theories that allow them to deny valid claims. He said he hopes Attorney General William Barr will join Trump in denouncing that tactic. He said the restaurant industry employs more people than any other sector of the economy.
“The president saying I’m not going to let them get away with it, I’m proud of that,” he said.
Houghtaling refused to say whether he is a Republican or a Democrat. He said he is “non-partisan” — as is the question of whether insurers should pay legitimate claims. Both Republican and Democrats supported him when he litigated against insurers that denied claims after natural disasters, he said.
“What they all had in common is their constituents lived after a disaster,” Houghtaling said. “They collected premiums and when the disaster happens, they withhold money.”