Some say that in the life of a claims adjuster there is never a dull moment. As evident from this series, contents claims professionals in particular encounter cases often as varied and intricate as the covered objects themselves, from a stolen gorilla mount to a water-damaged Persian rug or a prized painting.
One recent case involving a tarnished art piece presented a unique vaulation challenge to the insurer, who turned to contents specialists for further assessment. The art claim involved a glass statue by artist Paul Manner entitled “Suruculus.” This statue dates back to 1990, when it originally sold for $11,000. The description of damage indicated the statue had “turned yellow.”
So how was this statue “damaged” and how much should the carrier compensate its policyholder?
This statue is comprised of multiple pieces of glass assembled in the shape of a crystal monolith. Some of the glass pieces are metal oxide coated. The use of metal oxides is the way different colors of glass are produced. Iron oxide, for example, produces a blue green glass while gold produces ruby red glass, and nickel results in a violet glass. The artist used the crystal shape of the statue as a prism to refract light, producing lighting effects such as rainbows. The internal reflections and colors from the different metal oxide glass components of various sizes and shapes also produce changing and unexpected color effects as the piece is viewed from different angles.
Research conducted by the contents specialists determined this artist was an early user of adhesives that “cure” when exposed to ultraviolet light. The adhesive cured clear in 1990 and was used to assemble the multiple pieces of glass when making the statue. This process was used with great success to achieve the desired effect when the statue was created, but the artist either did not anticipate or was not concerned about the yellowing of the adhesive that would occur over time as the statue aged.
The insurance policy covers sudden and accidental damage to an object, but it doesn’t act as a warranty that an object will forever remain in its original condition, nor does it insure for “inherent vice.” Inherent vice is when the very nature of an object itself is the cause of its deterioration or damage, which is the case with this particular glass statue.
As a result, the recommended payment in this claim was zero.
The widespread use of newly developed materials, which have unknown aging characteristic, whether used in contemporary art or building construction, can often lead to similar types of claims that without the proper expertise, could have an inaccurate and costly outcome for both carriers and the insured. This case is a perfect example of the important role contents claims experts can play in not only analyzing the damage to unique and highly valuable items, but also in getting to the bottom of why the damage occurred.