Art law Disasters News USA

Christie’s storage hit by second lawsuit over storm damage

But auction house affiliate fights back, saying it is not responsible for work stored in its Brooklyn warehouse

The late artist Leroy Neiman, with Muhammad Ali right, was known for his brightly coloured sports scenes

Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services has been hit with a second lawsuit as a result of last year’s Superstorm Sandy, which caused flooding to parts of its Red Hook, Brooklyn warehouse. The company is fighting back, saying it is not responsible for any damage caused to the art it stored.

On 28 October, StarNet Insurance Co, the insurer for the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and the artist’s estate, filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court claiming that the storage company’s negligence caused more than $10m in damages to Neiman’s art. StarNet says it paid the foundation and estate up to the limit of their insurance coverage and is now seeking that amount from Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services. Neiman, who died last year, was one of America’s most popular artists, best known for his brightly coloured sports scenes and largely ignored by critics.

In August, AXA Art Insurance filed a similar suit, claiming $1.5m in damages to art collected by the late cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and stored at Christie’s Brooklyn warehouse, which they say was left unprotected on the ground floor during Sandy.

According to the Neiman complaint, 476 pieces had been delivered to the warehouse by 4 October 2012 and for more than three weeks remained unsecure on the ground floor. On 26 October 2012, the complaint says, Christie’s storage sent an email detailing its hurricane preparations, which included raising all items off the ground floor. Three days later, Sandy struck, severely damaging Neiman’s art.

The complaint says that despite these assurances “and widespread notice that a massive storm surge would be hitting Red Hook… that would flood the first floor of the Warehouse” the company never “relocated or elevated the Artworks… or otherwise took any precautions to protect the Artworks”.

On 22 November, Christie’s storage struck back with motions to dismiss each case. It says that their agreements with the parties protect it from responsibility for any damages. The Neiman foundation and the owners of the Piatigorsky collection both signed a document, included in the court papers, stating that they were responsible for arranging their own insurance coverage for the property they deposited at the facility and that they released Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services from “all liability for physical loss of or damage to my goods”.

Christie’s declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokeswoman said the storage company has no plans to move from Red Hook, but “of course, we are constantly evaluating ways to improve our operations, including what we learned from the unprecedented storm surge”.

The Neiman foundation and the lawyers for the insurers had no comment on the cases. Their response to the motions is due in early January.

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