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Could There Be Any Insurance Coverage For The Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire?

Posted on: May 20th, 2019

By: Jessica C. Samford

A month ago, the world was shocked with the news and images of the Notre-Dame catching fire, resulting in the destruction of some of its awe-inspiring features. It had been reported that the cathedral in its entirety was at risk, but thankfully the people of Paris were able to subdue it after many hours of hard work and careful firefighting to protect and preserve the delicate architecture. Concerns ranged from the artwork of the stained-glass windows, double arches, flying buttresses, as well as the relics and other art that the cathedral contained inside. One of its prominent exterior works, the spire, which had been undergoing renovation, ended up collapsing in flames, as did most of the roof comprised of lead to provide structural support.  Many of the statues and relics were safe from harm as they were being stored elsewhere due to the restoration work. The 8,000-pipe organ within survived the fire, but reportedly suffered some damage from water and smoke. Astonishingly, all the stained glass remains intact. While arson was speculated based on another Paris church fire the month before, officials took the position that the Notre-Dame fire was likely a construction-related accident.

As a coverage attorney, my mind naturally turned to the coverage implications of this catastrophic event. Some of the individual items could be separately insured, but typical property owner policies, at least in the United States, limit coverage for antiques, art, and other collectibles unless they are specifically set forth in the policy so that their appraised value can be considered in charging the appropriate amount of premium. Stained-glass, for example, is often limited, similarly due to the high expense in repairing or replacing things often claimed to be irreplaceable. Property owner policies also typically exclude collapse as a covered cause of loss, but those provisions may not apply if the collapse was caused by another cause of loss that was covered, such as fire. Such policies often contain lead exclusions as well, so liability for bodily injury arising from lead would not be covered. The cause of the fire, too, can affect coverage since arson triggers exclusions for intentional acts if it can be linked to the property owner in some way; whereas, construction accidents may or may not qualify as an “accident” under an insurance policy depending on the applicable definitions and case law. It’s probable that the company(ies) performing the renovation work had liability insurance specific to the job in order to cover the distinctive risks arising from the uniqueness of those professional services provided.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jessica Samford at [email protected].

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