Famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse is suing its insurance provider, AMCO Insurance Company, for refusing to provide coverage for losses incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other restaurants in the Bay Area and across California, Chez Panisse has been forced to remain closed since March 19 following the state’s stay-at-home order. While this order has greatly aided social distancing measures amid the pandemic, it has brought financial hardships to many restaurants, workers and supply chain members.
“The servers, cooks, farmers, ranchers and other hard-working people in the Chez Panisse family are seeing their livelihoods in jeopardy because AMCO has declined to live up to its responsibilities as our insurer,” alleged Alice Waters, founder and owner of Chez Panisse, in a press release.
Through AMCO Insurance, Chez Panisse has both business interruption insurance and commercial property insurance policies, which the restaurant believes should cover the interruption caused by COVID-19.
The restaurant is suing for coverage of its insurance claim and is represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC as well as Gibbs Law Group, which serve as co-counsel.
“Chez Panisse spent years paying hefty premiums for business interruption insurance and AMCO has an obligation to help provide economic relief to my team and restore the wide-ranging supply chain of small farms and businesses that Chez Panisse relies on to provide fresh and local cuisine,” Waters said in the press release.
According to Andre Mura, one of the lawyers representing the restaurant, Chez Panisse is suing for breach of contract based on its allegation that AMCO Insurance did not properly investigate and wrongly denied its insurance claim.
Mura added that the precedent for reading insurance policy supports Chez Panisse, stating that he thinks the denial of the insurance claims is leading to “significant consequences … and a dramatic social impact.”
On the other side of this lawsuit is AMCO Insurance, which falls under parent company Nationwide Mutual Insurance.
“As an organization dedicated to protecting people, businesses and futures, we are committed to doing all we can within the coverage our members have purchased,” said Nationwide spokesperson Ryan Ankrom in an email statement.
Nationwide will evaluate coronavirus-related claims individually.
According to Ankrom, business interruptions due to disease outbreak have historically been excluded from standard insurance policies.
“The risk for such an event is so vast, including it in standard coverage would make such coverage unaffordable or even unavailable,” Ankrom said in the statement.
The restaurant remains closed, but since March 20, Chez Panisse has been selling pantry goods and farm boxes featuring local produce and Italian inspiration. These are available to order via the Chez Panisse website for pickup at the restaurant.