July 07, 2020

Berkeley’s Chez Panisse became the latest high-profile restaurant to sue its insurance company Tuesday over an alleged refusal to provide business interruption insurance to recoup losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit filed in federal court in San Francisco against AMCO Insurance Co. is the latest front in an ongoing battle between businesses and their insurance companies over whether policies cover the financial losses caused by shutdown orders.

“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,” said Alice Waters, chef and longtime owner of Chez Panisse, in a statement.

AMCO Insurance Co. is a division of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. A company representative didn’t immediately have comment.

Chez Panisse filed an insurance claim with AMCO in early May reporting a loss of business income after the March 16 shelter in place order began in Alameda County, according to a court filing.

AMCO allegedly denied the claim, saying there was no physical loss or property damage and noting an exclusion in the policy for damage caused by virus or bacteria.

The complaint alleges breach of contract by AMCO and demands a jury trial to recoup unspecified financial losses over $75,000.

“The effects of wrongful denial of insurance coverage extends well beyond the restaurant itself to all the farmers, suppliers and individuals who are critically important to the restaurant’s success,” said Andre Mura, a partner at Gibbs Law Group, which is representing Chez Panisse along with law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.

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