This year, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the South Florida hospitality industry, but attorneys expect next year to be different.
Marbet Lewis is expecting an increase in litigation on the commercial side. She said when the coronavirus pandemic struck “everyone moved so quickly, and a lot of businesses just accepted the regulations as they came out.”
(L to R) Mark J. Neuberger, a partner at Foley & Lardner in Miami; Marbet Lewis, a founding partner at Spiritus Law in Coral Gables; and, Louis J. Terminello, the chair of the hospitality, alcohol and leisure industry group at GreenspoonMarder based in Miami.
And Louis J. Terminello, the chair of the hospitality, alcohol and leisure industry group at Greenspoon Marder, pinpointed a sector that will revive commerce.
“South Florida nightlife drives other segments of the hospitality industry here,” Terminello said. “Many tourists come here to party at our nightclubs and visit our restaurant and hotels as a result. All segments of hospitality will not fully recover until the nightlife industry recovers as well.”
Terminello teaches alcohol law at the University of Miami School of Law and previously served as a senior law enforcement investigator with the State of Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco in Miami for more than a decade. Based on his work in the hospitality field, he cited research from Florida International University showing the immense monetary cost COVID-19 has had on South Florida this year.
Terminello estimated that since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the hotel and restaurant industry has taken a $3.3 billion hit. And rules passed by local governments, such as the early curfew in Miami-Dade County, have decimated nightlife and has caused a domino effect on other businesses as tourists do not see Miami as the vacation destination it once was.
Marbet Lewis, a partner at Spiritus Law in Coral Gables, agreed with Terminello.
Lewis, who has focused her practice on laws governing the alcohol industry, including the manufacturing, importation and sale of these beverages since 2004, said players in the field are starting to come out of their state of shock. In turn, that will have broader implications on litigation in this area of the law.
“Everyone moved so quickly, and a lot of businesses just accepted the regulations as they came out,” Lewis said.
Now, Lewis is expecting an increase in litigation from both the commercial and plaintiff-side in the hospitality industry.
Lewis pointed to local orders, such as the curfew and social distancing orders in Miami-Dade, which are perceived by some on the commercial side as impractical and unfair, especially compared to other options. For instance, Lewis cited better usage of outside areas by restaurants and bars.
While on the plaintiff side, Lewis said businesses may be letting their guards down.
“There’s going to be a lot of litigation because people are starting to go out there and challenge businesses that are not following orders or businesses that are putting people at risk,” Lewis said. “What tends to happen as we’re coming out of this and people become less strict on how they themselves are following this, businesses tend to do it as well.”
Mark J. Neuberger, a partner at Foley & Lardner in Miami, is expecting a lot of litigation in other areas, such as on claims by restaurants and bars under their business interruption insurance policies, and mortgage and commercial foreclosures on hospitality businesses.
But, Neuberger said financial foreclosures could be avoided depending upon the level of financial aid Congress may allocate to struggling businesses in the upcoming weeks and months.
In the meantime, Neuberger said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for vacation and leisure travel as people have been locked up in their houses, coming up on a year,” Neuberger said. “If people see the vaccine is safe and can be done, that should be good for the industry come summertime.”