On April 20, 2020, two Pittsburgh restaurants, Joseph Tambellini Restaurant and HTR Restaurants, Inc., filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County against Erie Insurance Company seeking business interruption coverage under an “all risk” policy. (An “all risk” policy does not have a specific virus exclusion.) On April 29, 2020, plaintiff’s counsel filed an Emergency Application with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking it to invoke its “King’s Bench” jurisdiction and to establish a coordinated system of resolving business interruption claims in Pennsylvania. The “King’s Bench” jurisdiction derives from medieval English law and is provided for by the Pennsylvania Constitution and statutory law. The Supreme Court may, on its own motion or upon petition of any party, in any matter pending before any court involving an issue of immediate public importance assume jurisdiction of a case at any stage and enter a final order. The plaintiff’s bar has requested that the Supreme Court exercise its King’s Bench power over all pending COVID business interruption claims in Pennsylvania and also coordinate all of the cases across the state.
On May 7, 2020, Erie filed its response arguing that the Supreme Court should not exercise its King’s Bench jurisdiction or consolidate all of the COVID cases on the basis that the restaurants’ private coverage dispute with Erie did not raise any issues of immediate public importance. Erie also made the argument that any decision rendered concerning coverage under its policy would not have broad applicability to other coverage matters. Erie believes that the trial courts in Pennsylvania are well-equipped to litigate insurance coverage disputes so that it is not necessary for the Supreme Court to exercise its King’s Bench jurisdiction. As evidenced by its decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Erie.