Cobb dentist files class-action suit over lost coronavirus business

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who represents a Cobb County dentist in a class-action lawsuit, speaking in 2018. (Hyosub Shin/

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who represents a Cobb County dentist in a class-action lawsuit, speaking in 2018. (Hyosub Shin/

A Cobb County dentist has filed a class-action lawsuit against insurers that have denied his and other business owners’ claims for lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, is being pursued by Dr. Roy H. Johnson and his practice, Windy Hill Dentistry. It was brought against The Hartford Financial Services Group and eight of its insurance subsidiaries.

The dental practice has lost business by having to suspend operations during the pandemic through no fault of its own, the suit said. But Hartford is denying its lost business claims, saying COVID-19 is not a covered loss.

“I vigorously disagree with their position,” said former Georgia governor and Marietta attorney Roy Barnes, whose law firm represents the Cobb dental practice.

“The insurance company is saying that a business interruption has to be accompanied by a physical loss — like from a fire,” Barnes said Saturday. “But there has been a physical loss here.”

Dentist Roy H. Johnson. (Photo: Windy Hill Dentistry)

icon to expand image

As for Johnson and his dental practice, Barnes added, “They denied him coverage even though he had to close his business. He had damage to his business because he had to shut it down.”

The suit notes that he Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended on March 18 that dentists delay elective and non-emergency procedures. A further mandate to postpone such work was issued by the American Dental Association.

A spokesman for Hartford said Saturday the company is not commenting on the lawsuit.

Hartford has dedicated a page on its website to address business interruption claims brought on by the coronavirus.

“This is generally designed to cover losses that result from direct physical loss or damage to property caused by hurricanes, fires, wind damage or theft and is not designed to apply in the case of a virus,” the company said. It added that every situation is different and said it would review claims on a case-by-case basis.

But Johnson’s lawsuit contends Hartford is “effectively denying all claims for business interruption coverage related to COVID-19.”

Johnson has provided dental care in Cobb for more than 40 years, and his practice has three dentists and 11 staff members.

Understanding events outside his control could happen, Johnson purchased insurance policies from Hartford covering him for a year beginning last June and which covered loss of income, the suit said. These are standard policies issued by Hartford in all 50 states and do not materially differ in coverage obligations, the suit added.

Across Georgia, thousands of dentists had to shut their offices, except for emergencies, during the pandemic to help reduct the spread of the virus. Only recently have offices reopened as restrictions were eased.

Johnson’s lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of businesses, including dental practice groups, that purchased Hartford insurance with income coverage and had to suspend or cancel non-emergency and elective procedures during the pandemic shutdown.

“As a result of government-mandated restrictions, many dental and medical practices have been forced to shut down and lay off staff,” the suit said. “Now more than ever, insured practices who have paid insurance premiums for specifically designed policies to cover interruptions are entitled to the coverage for which they paid.”