* Supreme Court to consider fast-tracked case by year-end
* Qatar's QIC Europe fails in bid to join the proceedings
* Appeal spells "nail in coffin" for small businesses-lawyer
LONDON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - A test case brought by Britain's
markets regulator against some of the world's biggest insurers
will jump straight to the Supreme Court after London's High
Court agreed to a fast-track appeal on Friday.
Although expedited, the appeal will further delay payouts on
disputed claims for thousands of struggling businesses battered
by the coronavirus pandemic, hoping for a speedy payout after a
judgment delivered two weeks ago.
At a webcast hearing on Friday, judges allowed the case to
leapfrog to the UK's highest court, which is expected to
consider it by year-end.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) brought a case against
eight insurers in June to clarify whether 21 policy wordings,
affecting potentially 700 types of policies, 60 insurers,
370,000 policyholders and billions in insurance claims, covered
disruption and government-ordered closures to curb the virus.
Judges examined policy wordings that cover business
interruption when insured premises cannot be accessed because of
public authority restrictions, in the event of a notifiable
disease within a specified radius -- and hybrid wordings.
The FCA said the judgment ruled mainly in the favour of
policyholders, although some insurers were more circumspect.
Subsequent negotiations over which policies should now pay out
hit a stumbling block and collapsed on Wednesday.
The FCA brought the case against QBE, Hiscox
, RSA, MS Amlin, Ecclesiastical
, Argenta, Zurich and Arch.
Zurich and Ecclesiastical, which previously said the court
found in their favour, are not seeking a further appeal. QIC
Europe, part of Qatar Insurance Company, failed in an
11th-hour bid to join the proceedings.
Sonia Campbell, a partner at law firm Mishcon de Reya who is
leading one of two action groups of policyholders, said the
decision by insurers to appeal was another "nail in the coffin
for small businesses".
"...it is disgraceful that insurers continue to drag their
feet and watch more and more of their own policyholders go to
the wall," she said.
Small businesses - from cafes and wedding planners to events
businesses - have said they faced ruin after attempts to claim
compensation for business losses during the pandemic, which
prompted a three-month national lockdown in March followed by
other restrictive measures, were rejected by insurers.
Kim Roe, managing director of Circa Group, an events group
based in Tunbridge Wells in southeastern England that once ran
events for London blue-chip companies, said the firm was tearing
through reserves since being shuttered in March.
Roe, a 20-year Hiscox customer, said events businesses were
"the forgotten people", because they had been unable to trade
even in a limited capacity.
"If I knew I was going to get some form of settlement, I
could sleep at night," she said.
Businesses across the world have been locked in disputes
with insurance companies over pandemic-related payouts. Insurers
say they are paying valid claims but that many policies exclude
pandemics, require physical damage to premises or do not apply
to widespread lockdowns and paying out all claims could be
catastrophic for the industry.
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley, editing by Louise Heavens and