Was Notre Dame Cathedral Covered by Insurance?

By Hillary Kuehl, April 17, 2019

Who is responsible for covering the costs to repair Notre Dame and how will they fund it?


In light of the tragic fire that caused irretrievable damage to historic French landmark, Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday night- Who is responsible for covering the costs to repair Notre Dame and how will they fund it?

“It is really going to be up to the French state and benefactors to help to restore and rebuild this", Robert Read, head of art and private client at the insurer Hiscox told Reuters, "The French state is huge, bigger than any insurer, so they are likely to self-insure not only the building but also the important artifacts it contained", added Read.  

According to experts, the total restoration of Notre Dame could take up to 15 years and cost an estimated $8 billion. 

Renovators Could be Held Liable 

Prior to Monday, Notre dame was in the middle of undergoing a series of major renovations involving numerous contracting firms, including restoring the iconic spire that collapsed during the fire. Investigators believe the fire began in the roof cavity, below the Cathedral's spire, where work was being done the day before by employees of a well-respected enterprise, Le Bras Freres. The employees of the family-owned Le Bras Freres had recently begun the process of restoring the 19th century spire, whose intricate lead-coated wooden structure had dried-out and weakened over the years. 

Company head, Mr. Le Bras told reporters at the scene "We want more than anyone for light to be shed on the origin of this drama," adding that their workers are cooperating with the investigation. 

French insurance firm AXA said on Tuesday it provided insurance coverage for both Le Bras Freres as well as another contracting firm working on the restoration, Europe Echafaudage. An AXA spokesman declined to estimate the company’s potential liabilities associated with the damage caused.

If one of the numerous contracting firms involved is found liable for the fire's outbreak, their insurance company will be responsible for paying up to the amount their policy covers. An AXA spokesman declined to estimate the company’s potential liabilities associated with the damage caused.

"There is a major risk that in this case it will go to court given the importance of what is at stake and the determination of responsibility is complex," said Nicolas Kaddeche at Hiscox, a specialist insurer for artworks, adding that given the a number of construction firms working on the renovation, it could be difficult to prove who was ultimately responsible for the fire. 

The Potential Risk was Known

According to statements made by on-scene firefighters in a News Conference on Wednesday, there was a clear risk for fire in the centuries old roof prior to Monday. The roof's beams had dried-out and weakened over the years and its immense height provided for extra oxygen to fuel the fire. In addition, the stone walls trapped the heat and smoke inside, making it difficult for the firefighters to enter to reach the source of the flames. According to Phillipe Demay, who was among one of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene, the firefighters knew “perfectly well” that if the roof caught fire, “it was going to be very complicated to stop". It wouldn't have taken much to spark the massive outbreak that occurred on Monday.

Donors Pledge Nearly $1 billion  

Although the financial responsibility for Notre Dame's repair has thus far fallen solely on the French State, it’s clear they will not have to bear the expense alone. Less than 24 hours after the fire, individuals, companies and institutions together have pledged over €845 million ($950 million) to rebuild the beloved French landmark.

The fundraising campaign was kickstarted on Monday night, with a pledge of €100 million from Francis Pinualt, CEO and chairman of luxury group Kering.

“Last night, I was like many French people watching the tragedy of Notre Dame burning in front of me and I was so in shocked and I was among kids, adults, all people crying looking at that, and I said I had to do something,” Pinault said on Tuesday, according to Euronews.

The fundraising efforts have not been limited to the rich and famous either; Smaller fundraising campaigns have spread worldwide, including over $43,000 raised through an online campaign started by 23 year old business student, Charles Gosse. 

Tags: Enterprise Risk Management, Commercial General Liability, Employment Practices Liability

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