Will Insurance Companies Cover Chelsea After Sandy?


No one yet knows the full financial impact on the art world from Storm Sandy, though estimates of the storm’s overall cost currently stand at $50 to $60 billion, according to Public Radio International.

“Damages to galleries in Chelsea alone are in the millions,” said David Genser, a Boston-based insurance broker who serves many galleries in the New York area and nationally, talking to A.i.A. by phone Tuesday.

Sandy won’t be the last storm of its kind. According to reinsurance company Munich RE, which insures insurance companies, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.”

Gallery owners may not have an easy time recovering losses to their facilities, Genser said, such as damage to walls, floors, computers, furniture and the like.

“Unless you buy flood insurance, which is hard to come by and prohibitively expensive, flood coverage is typically not included in commercial liability policies, which cover everything in your gallery other than the art,” said Genser.

It remains to be seen how insurance companies will respond to claims for losses to galleries’ infrastructure.

“The insurers may maintain that if you don’t have flood insurance, those losses are not covered,” said Genser. “But wind, which causes hurricanes, is covered in these policies. And I would argue that much of the water damage was caused by sewer backup, which is also covered. If the insurance companies take a hard line and say the cause of these damages was a flood, it could be devastating for these businesses.”

In terms of art, according to Christiane Fischer, president and CEO of AXA ART, a global art insurance company, “It’s still too early to know how much was lost. We are still in the initial triage phase.” She spoke to A.i.A. by phone Monday.

Insurance industry representatives say that all insured art will be covered. Genser predicted that “all claims for lost and damaged art covered by personal or commercial policies should be settled with ease.”

The two types of insurance leave gallery owners wondering what will be covered and what will not. Some galleries also have insurance to cover interruptions of business, which, due to disruptions to shipping, many galleries are suffering even if their physical facility or art went unharmed.

“We thought that we were also covered for business interruption but that may not be the case because if the cause was flooding, that may be a loophole,” Jessie Washburn Harris, of Chelsea’s Harris Lieberman Gallery, told A.i.A. on the phone Wednesday. “But we’re grateful that all the art that was damaged should be covered.”

Insurers suspect that policies will change to reflect the new climate reality.

Because no storm with flooding like this had hit New York before, Fischer said, “no one seriously considered something like Sandy possible.” Accordingly, insurance policies did not include provisions to account for such an event. That will likely change.

“In Florida or the Gulf Coast, where the majority of hurricanes hit,” she explained, “policies require that art be moved during the hurricane season or as soon as a storm is announced.”

In the Northeast, she said, “In terms of similar specific provisions, we’re now in a post-Sandy world.”

The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) will host an information session about insurance claims Friday, Nov. 9, 11 A.M., at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 W 26th St, with presentations from lawyers and insurance experts.