Sean's Bar owners entitled to compensation over COVID disruption, judge rules

by Aodhan O'Faolain

The High Court has ruled that four pub owners, including the owner of Sean's Bar in Athlone, are entitled to be compensated by insurer FBD for the disruption their businesses suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a landmark decision, the outcome of which affects claims made by some 1,000 Irish pubs and restaurants, Mr Justice Denis McDonald found that a policy sold by FBD covered losses the pubs sustained by having to close due to the global health emergency.

In a lengthy and detailed judgement delivered on Friday the judge disagreed with FBD's interpretation of its policy and said cover is not lost where the closure is prompted by nationwide outbreaks of disease provided that there is an outbreak within the 25 mile radius and that outbreak is one of the causes of the closure.

The issue of quantifying the losses, the judge said will be dealt with at a later date.

The four test actions were taken by Dublin bars Aberken, trading as Sinnotts Bar; Hyper Trust Ltd, trading as ‘The Leopardstown Inn' and ‘Inn on Hibernian Way’ Ltd trading as Lemon & Duke.

The fourth action was taken by Leinster Overview Concepts Ltd the owner of Sean's Bar, which is based in Athlone.

The publicans challenged FBD Insurance Plc's refusal to indemnify them, as well as the insurer’s stance that its policies of insurance did not cover the disruption caused to businesses by Covid-19.

The dispute arose after the insurer refused to provide policy holders with cover after the pandemic resulted in the first temporary closure of businesses, in mid-March 2020.

Judgment in the case, which took several weeks to hear, was due to be delivered in January.

The decision was deferred to allow the parties make submissions to the court arising out of a judgment from the UK's Supreme Court where similar issues were raised.

Each of the pub owners claimed that under their policies of insurance taken out with FBD they are entitled to have their consequential losses covered by what they claimed is an insurable risk.

They also claimed that by failing to pay out on the policy the insurer was in breach of contract.

The publicans claimed the policies taken out with FBD contain a clause that states the pubs will be indemnified if their premises were closed by order of the local or Government Authority if there are "Outbreaks of contagious or infectious diseases on the premises or within 25 miles of same."

FBD disputed the claims and argued that the closures did not occur as a result of an outbreak of disease at the premises or areas where the pubs are located.

FBD also told the court that it has never provided cover for pandemics and no one in Ireland has ever asked for it.

The general insurance market in Ireland does not insure against events like pandemics, it claimed.

Only specialist brokers, which he said are based overseas, on a bespoke basis offer an insurance policy that cover the fall-out from something like covid19, FBD also argued.