MADISON — Glass blowing isn't considered COVID-friendly. For Classy Glass Inc. based in Madison, they have certainly felt the heat handling the pandemic.
"Say like a mask mandate or social distance policies, it does make it a little difficult if we're trying to mitigate risk with those lessons. We figure if an instructor has to stand six feet away from their student that's working on a torch. It feels like there some steps due to a mask and social distancing, it's not very safe to be doing our lessons and our normal course load," explained Co-owner Levi Kellogg.
"The losses are still accruing," said co-owner Adrian Holtzman.
When Wisconsin's Safer at Home Order came down, Holtzman and Kellogg shut down their retail shops temporarily and their two glass blowing locations, one in Madison and one in Denver, Colorado.
They were confident their commercial insurance through The Cincinnati Insurance Companies would cover their business interruption. But, they got denied.
The Cincinnati Insurance Companies' reasoning for the denial surprised Holtzman and Kellogg.
"They at one point used a pollution exclusion, suggesting COVID-19 was a pollutant," said Kellogg.
Holtzman and Kellogg are suing their insurer, citing its own definition of pollutant doesn't apply to viruses.
The co-owners argue The Cincinnati Insurance Companies never came out for an inspection or to investigate their claims.
"They didn't want to investigate. They wanted us to send them the documents we had received from the government ordering the shutdown," said Holtzman.
Besides, they say provisions in their policy should cover their losses by the government shutdown during the pandemic.
Their attorney, Chris J. Trebatoski of TREBLAW, LLC in Milwaukee says Classy Glass Inc. bought two different types of business income loss coverage, and on pages 38 and 83 their policy discusses the shutdowns by "civil authorities."
Business attorney Emil Ovbiagele is not connected with this case but says with any contract-based dispute, the exact language matters. He's seen insurance companies win a lot of cases because the policies are so thorough.
"There are exceptions within exceptions to almost everything," said Ovbiagele with OVB Law & Consulting S.C.
"I think the insurance industry has a very very important interest to protect here. They are very aware that if they have to give out or at least payout it can be financially depressing," Ovbiagele continued.
The Insurance Information Institute reports if business interruption payouts were mandated, it would cost insurers at least $255 billion a month.
The Cincinnati Insurance Companies provided the below statement to the I-Team:
Thank you for reaching out to Cincinnati Insurance. We respect the rights of all parties to have their issues heard and resolved in a court of law. For that reason, we do not comment on pending litigation. Cincinnati Insurance remains committed to doing our part to support the families and businesses in our agents' communities, helping them to proactively manage risks and promptly paying covered claims.
The owners of Classy Glass Inc. are seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages.
"Say they don't rule in your favor, and you don't get those damages, will you guys be OK? The I-Team's Kristin Byrne asked the co-owners.
"No. It's going to be a big setback," answered Holtzman.
"You shouldn't be doing that to small business owners during this time," said Kellogg.