London insurers Hiscox Plc, Axa Art Insurance Ltd. and Ascot Underwriting Ltd. are filing lawsuits against art handler Momart, whose warehouse fire last year consumed art valued at as much as 40 million pounds ($72.4 million). Their allies in the case include artists such as Damien Hirst.
The May 2004 fire in east London destroyed 36 works by Hirst, a top-priced U.K. artist, according to court documents filed on behalf of claimants in May at the High Court. London collector Charles Saatchi lost about 100 works. Valuations of losses include uninsured owners who were Momart customers, said Charles Dupplin, head of art and private-client insurance at Hiscox, the U.K.’s largest insurer of art collectors.
“The whole thing is very sad,” Dupplin said in an interview. “As an insurer, I can give people money, but I can’t give them back the art they love.”
Lawyers expect the case to be heard in court next year. Insurers routinely go to court after paying claims, in order to try and recover their money. By doing so, they hope to improve their financial results.
“We have a duty to our name and to our shareholders to mitigate any loss by third-party action,” said Robert Read, a fine- art underwriter at Hiscox.
A woman who answered the telephone at Momart asked that questions be sent by e-mail to Carole Hastings, a Momart director. She didn’t reply to the e-mail.