Wednesday, in the Superior Court of California County of Napa, attorney John Houghtaling filed for a Declaratory Judgement on behalf of famed chef Thomas Keller’s business interruption insurance policy against Hartford Fire Insurance Company.
The lawsuit requests the court to make a legally binding decision on whether Keller’s policy with Hartford allows the chef to recover business losses suffered in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak. Said Keller, “The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in America — it’s a chosen profession employing more than 15.6 million Americans and contributes $1 trillion to the economy. This entire sector is crippled by a nationwide public health shutdown impacting countless livelihoods. We need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”
Houghtaling added, “To avoid payments for a civil authority shut down the insurance industry is pushing out deceptive propaganda that the virus does not cause a dangerous condition to property. This is a lie, it’s untrue factually and legally. The insurance industry is pushing this out to governments and to their agents to deceive policyholders about the coverage they owe.”
Keller is chef and proprietor of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc + Addendum. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three-star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. His landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry, is perennially rated one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Keller has earned a remarkable seven Michelin stars, and is the first American male chef to be designated with the Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France. Keller has also been honored with The Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of the Year” Award and the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” Awards.
Houghtaling is a nationally recognized attorney who is majority partner of New Orleans-based Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling, LLC, the law firm credited with leading a class action lawsuit against Big Tobacco that led to a record $286 billion settlement. Houghtaling was also selected by Louisiana’s Attorney General to determine policyholder rights in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His representation of more than 1,000 storm victims in Superstorm Sandy uncovered a national scandal in which top FEMA Executives admitted that companies forged engineering reports to deny coverage to storm victims. Houghtaling’s litigation and coordination with the Attorney General of New York exposed the fraud and led to the arrest of an insurance executive, federal fines against an insurer, and hundreds of millions of dollars being recovered by storm victims. Houghtaling’s insurance work was the subject of a CBS 60 Minutes special, Frontline Documentary, CBS Evening News profile, and led to the founding of a national non-profit, The American Policyholders Association.
Hartford Fire Insurance Company is one of the largest properties and casualty insurers in the country with over 260 companies under its umbrella.