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Chez Panisse Founder Alice Waters Talks About Suit Against Insurance Company

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- The famed founder of Berkeley's Chez Panisse Restaurant on Thursday talked about a recently filed lawsuit against her insurers over COVID-19 shutdown losses.

The restaurant announced on Tuesday it was suing its insurance carrier AMCO Insurance Company after they rejected the restaurant's claim, saying their business interruption policy doesn't cover a pandemic.

Founder, chef and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters said she was shocked when her carrier told her company any financial loss caused by a virus is excluded from the coverage. Like most businesses, Chez Panisse has lost a lot of money. Waters told KPIX 5 they need the funds to pay staff and vendors.

"I don't sue people easily. I don't believe in it," said Waters, who opened her restaurant in 1971. She said she has had business interruption insurance since the 1980s and noted it is which is different from the average business insurance policy.

Waters said the insurance money "would make all the difference between [reopening] easily or with great difficulty."

She's not alone. It's a big issue across the country. Most insurance companies have rejected similar claims filed by other businesses.

Waters believed her lawsuit against her insurer could pave the way for other businesses.

"If this case goes to court and it wins, it will lift us all up," said Waters.

Barbara Dryden is the owner of Rue Atelier, a women's clothing boutique on College Avenue in Berkeley. She also has business interruption insurance and her carrier also denied her claim.

"Incredibly frustrated knowing that I've been paying 10 years of premium to this company and knowing this is the time that I need help, and yet they're not able to help out," said Dryden.

She said a win for Alice Waters could mean a big win for little guys like her who can't afford a lawyer to go fight the big insurance.

"The insurance companies are not stepping up for the people," said Dryden.

"The American people are being grossly deceived by their insurance companies," said Scott Friedson, CEO of Insurance Claim Recovery Support.

Friedson is a public insurance adjuster who advocates for policy holders. He is fighting the insurance companies on this issue and trying hold them accountable.

"They need to be holding the interest of policy holders equal to their own. And wherever there's some ambiguity, they need to do the right thing and indemnify their policy holders," said Friedson.

He said this issue could go all the way to the Supreme Court because the result would likely affect all insurance companies and claims.

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