The digital billboards in New York City’s famous Times Square will go dark tonight at 9 pm ET for one minute to dramatize the plight of restaurants, non-profits and retailers across the country that are suffering business losses due to the pandemic and shutdowns.
Organizers say they want to alert the nation to the “very real prospect that hundreds of thousands of American restaurants, non-profits and retailers – employing millions – are in danger of going dark” because they say neither insurance nor existing federal assistance programs are helping as they should.
Among the coordinators of the publicity event is the Business Interruption Group (BIG), a coalition of restaurants and other businesses co-founded by Louisiana attorney John Houghtaling that is pushing for the insurance industry to pay business income losses of struggling businesses. Houghtaling also represents several clients suing insurers over business interruption.
“Business interruption insurance claims are being wrongfully denied. That is crippling the essential hospitality businesses that drive tourism and are woven into the fabric of our cities. The loss of revenue without the opportunity to recover lost funds robs business owners of the capital necessary to re-open,” said Houghtaling.
BIG has been pressing for insurers to pay business interruption claims on policies that do not contain a virus exclusion and then be reimbursed through a federal fund.
Insurers have balked at paying many of these claims, arguing that the coronavirus does not cause physical damage that is required to trigger business interruption coverage and that most policies also exclude viruses. The industry says it can’t afford to cover the losses its policies were not written or priced to cover and still meet its obligations to other policyholders.
Many in the insurance industry support a federal program that would allow businesses to buy revenue replacement coverage for up to 80 percent of payroll and other expenses. This plan, Business Continuity Protection Program, would be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Others behind tonight’s publicity event are billboard companies, the Times Square Alliance of businesses and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
The Times Square billboards blackout is to be followed by a video urging the insurance industry to honor business interruption claims and support legislation. The video features opinions from Whoopi Goldberg, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the global Jewish human rights group Simon Wiesenthal Center, Chef Eric Ripert of restaurant Le Bernardin, Broadway actress and singer Liz Dutton and others calling on insurance companies to “do the right thing.”
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