A Wichita woman is suing an online booking website’s travel insurance provider for breach of contract after she says the company refused to refund her more than $3,500 for a Texas vacation she canceled over COVID-19.
Audra Sanchez, in the Aug. 5 lawsuit, said she canceled a week-long family trip to a Rockport, Texas, beach house along the Gulf Coast after her 12-year-old daughter was exposed to the novel coronavirus while playing with a friend on July 13. Sanchez paid $254.53 for a travel insurance coverage plan through CSA Travel Protection and Insurance Services when she booked accommodations on May 10 through Austin, Texas-based Vrbo, the lawsuit says.
During a doctor’s appointment the day after the COVID-19 exposure, a physician told Sanchez and her family to quarantine for two weeks. The physician also wrote a letter to the travel insurance company, asking it to “release (Sanchez) from her obligations to her vacation package at this time,” the lawsuit says.
“It was really disappointing when we found out that our daughter had been exposed,” Sanchez said in a phone interview with The Eagle.
“At the time of booking, I just thought that the chances of that actually happening were so low.”
The family vacation — for Sanchez, her husband and four children — was scheduled for July 24-31, the same time frame they were told by the doctor to stay home.
“I don’t think anybody books a vacation thinking that they will cancel it,” she said.
“We wanted to do the right thing and follow the guidelines.”
But Sanchez says on July 22, five days after she submitted an insurance claim to CSA Travel Protection, the company refused to pay for the cost of the trip and instead offered her a voucher that would refund only the insurance premium amount.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, names as defendants Generali U.S. Branch and Generali Global Assistance Inc, which does business as CSA Travel Protection and Insurance Services, as well as Customized Services Administrators Inc.
Generali could not be reached for comment by phone and an emailed request went unanswered. There was no attorney listed for the company in court records.
Sanchez didn’t book the trip until after Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly lifted the state’s stay-at-home order and says in the lawsuit that she wouldn’t have purchased the travel insurance policy had it warned claims related to COVID-19 “would be denied regardless of any underlying or extenuating Claim-specific circumstances.”
“It (the denial) just was really shocking because when I read through the policy I was looking for anything about COVID or pandemics,” she said. “There was no wording about that at all.”
She says the language in the policy expressly allows coverage in cases where travelers are being quarantined, though, and says she didn’t receive correspondence from the company telling her about an exception for the coronavirus.
A copy of the policy attached to the lawsuit defines quarantine as “the enforced isolation” of the traveler or a traveling companion “for the purpose of preventing the spread of illness, disease or pests.”
“We just want to see the insurance company do the right thing,” she said. CSA should “make their policies more clear for people.”
Sanchez is seeking class-action status in the case. She is seeking $500,000 in damages and a jury trial in Kansas City.
The lawsuit says Generali announced in a message to customers earlier this year that because the COVID-19 outbreak “was considered a foreseeable event,” any coronavirus-related claims could be excluded from any travel policy purchased on or after Jan. 29, 2020. Coverage would be flat-out denied for COVID-19 losses starting on March 11, the date the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic.
But, the lawsuit contends, the company is still liable.
“Ms. Sanchez did all the right things, took all the right precautions, and fully expected this company to honor its commitment,” Sanchez’s attorney, Tim Sifers of the Potts Law Firm in Kansas City, said in an emailed statement.
“These denials by Vrbo’s insurance provider are widespread, and a class action is the most efficient and effective means to gain compensation for those who purchased these policies in good faith, only to be wrongfully denied.”
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