Notre-Dame: ensure a historical monument, a puzzle

How are the historical monuments insured? Can we estimate everything? On what grounds do we compensate the damage in such buildings? Many questions emerge in the aftermath of the Notre-Dame-de-Paris fire, one of the worst incidents affecting French historical heritage since the Second World War.

Who owns Notre-Dame-de-Paris and who insures it?
The state is the owner of the building and is its own insurer, so it assumes only the risk and the damage. “It does not use an insurance company to cover them except for specific legal arrangements, which also means that a number of castles are not covered by the private sector, it’s a choice,” explains to AFP Dominique de la Fouchardière, director of SLA Verspieren, specialist in the insurance of castles and historical monuments. It is the same for the monuments which he owns.

In total, according to the data of the Ministry of Culture, of the 44,321 listed historical monuments, the State owns 2.7% of them considered protected buildings, ie both registered and classified historical patrimony.

On the other hand, it belongs theoretically to the Archbishop of Paris to insure the property inside the building. “Since the law of separation of the Church and the State of 1905, the buildings are insured by the State and the goods are insured by specific insurance policies when the Church can”, details the expert .

Asked by AFP, the diocese of Paris was not able to answer on the cover of the goods and works present inside the building during the disaster.

Which insurance procedure will now be triggered?
Certainly a search for liability, an investigation to determine the origin of the fire and whether the responsibility of one of the companies responsible for the renovation is engaged.

“On this issue, there is great risk that it goes into litigation given the importance of the issues and because the search for responsibility is complex,” said AFP Nicolas Kaddeche, head of the Arts and Clientele market private Hiscox in France, insurer specializing in art.

“It is always difficult to prove the responsibility of an intervening company” in a construction site because a disaster can occur either during the construction site, or once the work concluded due to an electrical malfunction, for example, develops the insurer.

It is then important to establish “the chain of responsibility within the subcontractors”, says Mr. Kaddèche, “so first the owner is implicated, then often, the latter will turn to each of the stakeholders, finally it will be necessary to determine which intervener was concerned and whether he has a responsibility in the event or not “.

As far as craftsmen and project owners are concerned, generally they must provide a certificate of civil liability and decennial liability, which guarantees work up to 10 years after their completion.

What compensation can we expect?
If the responsibility for the fire is not attributed to one of the companies engaged in the renovation of the cathedral, then the State, itself the guarantor of the building, will be in charge of the reconstruction. Hence the importance of private donations, so far amounting to more than 630 million euros, to help in the repair.

On the other hand, if the responsibility of one of the companies is established then their insurer will have to compensate up to the guarantee subscribed by the company. If the coverage proves to be insufficient then the solidarity or possible funds of aid will come to palliate this failure.

Comment les assureurs établissent la valeur des biens historiques et artistiques ?
Pour un monument historique d’une telle envergure, “les valeurs sont inestimables, on ne peut pas les mesurer”, avance M. de la Fouchardière

“Pour éviter les contestations en cas de sinistres sur des surfaces ou des valeurs importantes, on fait passer des experts préalables pour mesurer la surface développée tant en longueur, largeur, qu’en hauteur” au sein du monument, explique le courtier.

Puis “on estime aussi la valeur et la qualité des embellissements qui sont par définition immeubles” comme par exemple des vitraux, des boiseries travaillées, des grands orgues. “Mis, bout à bout, on peut aboutir à des valeurs inestimables”, selon le dirigeant de SLA Verspieren.

“Estimer un monument, cela commence à 5 millions d’euros pour un petit château jusqu’à 200 millions d’euros” pour un monument plus important, estime-t-il. “Les compagnies d’assurances partent sur la valeur réelle du bien et non pas la valeur vénale du bien (soit la valeur d’un bien sur un marché, ndlr), qui doit s’approcher du coût de reconstruction”, selon M. de la Fouchardière.

Concernant les oeuvres d’art, plusieurs niveaux de couverture peuvent être souscrits “en fonction de la politique de gestion du risque et de la stratégie de protection des oeuvres” décidée par les propriétaires, précise pour sa part M. Kaddècche. L’oeuvre peut être assurée à hauteur de sa valeur totale de remplacement ou seulement en réparation.

Néanmoins, selon le réassureur suisse Swiss Re, interrogé par l’AFP, “les œuvres d’art et reliques ne sont généralement pas assurées parce qu’elle sont souvent inestimables”.

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