(CN) – The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations sued a group of commercial insurers Tuesday, demanding payment on business-interruption claims for the closure of their Oklahoma casinos due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Choctaw Nation sued in Bryan County District Court and the Chickasaw Nation sued in Pontotoc County District Court against several underwriters at Lloyd’s syndicates, Lexington Insurance Company, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Evanston Insurance Company and Arch Specialty Insurance Company, among others.
The plaintiffs claim they bought policies with “all-risk” benefits that include “business interruption, interruption by civil authority, limitations of ingress and egress, and extra expense,” the Chickasaw’s 5-page complaint states.
Hours earlier, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt had ordered all nonessential businesses in Oklahoma to close and instructed the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions to stay home until April 30. The order also bans groups of 10 or more people from gathering anywhere in the state.
Michael Burrage, an attorney for the tribes with Whitten Burrage in Oklahoma City, wants the court to rule that the losses from the casino closures are covered. He told The Oklahoman newspaper Tuesday the insurers have yet to specifically deny the claims but denials have happened in Louisiana and other places.
Burrage said that in the other denied claims, insurers have argued the losses are not covered because there has been no physical damage to property.
“As a direct result of this pandemic and infection, the nation’s property has been damaged, as described above, and cannot be used for its intended purpose,” the complaint states.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw casinos have been closed since March 16 and will remain closed until March 31. The nations have pledged to keep paying employees through the closure.
Choctaw Chief Gary Batton said people’s health and safety is the nation’s “top priority” in explaining the closure.
“Choctaw has been closely monitoring the constantly evolving situation regarding Covid-19, and based on the latest information from local, state and federal health officials, we feel it is our responsibility to do what we can to help reduce the rapid spread of this disease,” he said.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the closure was ordered after receiving updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are closing all casinos operated by the Chickasaw Nation as a way to help mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health and well-being of our citizens,” he said.