$1/2 Million Smoke Damage Fine Art Insurance Claim Problems


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I just completed a fine art claim evaluation from Chubb. I was hired to look over an estate in the Los Angeles area to determine smoke damage to fine art, sculpture, frames, decorated and gilt surfaces and murals that resulted from brush fires 2 years ago, 40 miles away.

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$1/2 Million Smoke Damage Fine Art Insurance Claim Problems

  1. 1. Smoke Damage… from 40 miles away?!I just completed a fine art claim evaluation from Chubb. I was hired to lookover an estate in the Los Angeles area to determine smoke damage to fine art,sculpture, frames, decorated and gilt surfaces and murals that resulted frombrush fires 2 years ago, 40 miles away. In the entry, there were 5 vaulted ceilings similar to this one, except the crown moldings were goldObviously, there is probably more dust from the last two years than there aredeposits from smoke. It might have been possible to analyze the “dust” withsophisticated analytical means to determine the difference between dust andsmoke but that option would have cost $1,000′s and was rejected.In the end, there are actually two questions: 1. Are there smoke deposits and 2.Do they cause damage? Since the analysis option was rejected, the presence ofdeposits from smoke was impossible for me to see with the naked eye. So, thatquestion is unanswerable. So, my visit was to confirm or reject the claim ofdamage as a result of smoke deposits.I carefully went through 10 pages of itemized objects that were represented in the
  2. 2. $500,000.00 claim for repairs. The client accompanied me through the propertyexplaining what he saw as the damages and concerns. He showed me gilt finishesthat he thought had altered in color because of exposure to the smoke.It is my opinion that the “alterations” that the client points out are actuallydiverse colors of original finishes that perhaps he no longer remembers or wasaware of… but is now noticing. The gold decorated surfaces includingarchitectural moldings, door frames, hanging light surrounds etc do not appear tome to be damaged because they were coated with a protective “varnish” whenthey were originally made. So, the smoke would have never touched the surface ofthe gilding (which was actually paint in most of the areas!). Close inspection andtesting of the acrylic surface protective varnish was done on the columns in theentry hallway (which are included on the claim). Then, the characteristics of thisprotective finish were compared to and identified on all other gold surfaces Icould personally inspect and it is assumed that the decorative finisher/artist’stechnique was the same on all gilt surfaces (that were high and out of the waywhich I could not inspect close up). The only place this gold finish is damaged/oxidized/altered is on the banister of the grand staircase which is due to constant rubbing and exposure to oils and deposits from hands, not from the exposure to smoke. The protective acrylic coatings on the “gold” through out the house show no evidence of debris/deposits of smoke. So, after my careful inspection, of all the individual items/objects (paintings, frames, etc) and finishes my opinion in my report is thatthere is no alteration of varnish finishes on artwork. The claimed alterations onframes finishes appear to be indistinguishable. And the varnish coatings on thegold protected them from any damage.In this case, the result of my visit was good for Chubb. .. it could save themhaving to pay out the $500,000.00 claim. But then again, I inspected a singlepainting once for Chubb that was a claim for just shy of $1/2 million and theypaid out even though they didn’t have to because they wanted to keep the clientwho had a massive collection, boats and other toys, houses etc all insured withthem. So, in the end, what motivates the business of how an insurance companysettles a claim?Well, all that is not really my problem. I’m an advocate for the artwork. I tell “it”straight regardless of who is paying my billing. That makes me a credible expertwitness and legal testimony.
  3. 3. Decorative moldings were through out the house… painted in gold, not gilt.Questions? Call Scott M. Haskins (faclartdoc@gmail.com)805 564 3438Art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate (jrholgate@yahoo.com) 805 8955121For other articles on insurance fine art claims matters go tohttp://insurancepersonalpropertyassessments.com/For our art conservation blog and a video tour of our lab, go tohttp://www.fineartconservationlab.com(See testimonials)Subscribe now to our YouTube channel athttp://www.youtube.com/user/bestartdoc?feature=mhee(See testimonials)