Day Out Disaster – What happens if your little darling damages a precious work of art?

25th June 2018

Day Out Disaster – What happens if your little darling damages a precious work of art?

The recent news that a family were hit with a £100,000 bill after their toddler damaged a work of art will send shivers down the spine of families across the country who are planning their days out over the summer. 

Museums are always popular destinations for families looking to keep children busy over during the school holidays - but what happens if your child takes their liking of a work of art too far and the worst happens?  Who has to pick up the bill and what are parent’s legal responsibilities when visiting attractions with children? 

Sarah Garner, a solicitor from DAS Law, explains what you need to know to make sure parents aren’t hit with a hefty bill…

If your child damages a piece of art who is responsible?

Historically in cases where artwork or precious artefacts have been damaged, even in a case where a child was lifted over a barrier, no action has been taken to recover the cost of the damage from the third party.  The gallery/museum have simply claimed from their insurers to cover the cost of any repairs required. 

However, following a recent case at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Centre in Overland Park, Kansas the mother of a 5 year old has been billed £100,000 for damage caused to an artwork by her child.  The insurance company are alleging that the mother was negligent by failing to adequately supervise her child, resulting in him reaching for the piece causing it to fall and smash. 

As a result of this case, we may see more situations where insurance companies try to recover costs from the person who has allegedly caused the damage.  An unintended consequence of that may be a drop in the number of people attending exhibits if they fear potentially being sued if they or their child damages an item of artwork.

Do galleries and museums have a responsibility to ensure art work is protected?

Museums and galleries generally display pieces of art and artefacts which are loaned to them by a third party including other countries.  Under the principle of bailment, you have a duty of care over items belonging to a third party that are in your care.  Galleries and museums therefore should ensure that pieces are reasonably protected, for example roping off areas or installing protective barriers. Such measures may even be a condition of any insurance policy.

In order for a gallery or museum to be sued for any damage caused to items in its care, a third party would have to establish that the museum had failed in their duty of care and had in some way been negligent.

Would the gallery or museum be able to claim on its insurance for any damage to art work?

Insurers do provide liability insurance to museums and galleries to protect themselves against claims for personal injury and damage caused to property including artworks and precious artefacts.  In addition to commercial insurance there are government indemnity schemes (GIS). The UK GIS is a non-commercial insurance agreement that allows the public access to objects within the UK that might not otherwise be available. Cover is provided on a cost free basis for loss and damage whilst they are on loan. The GIS has covered many major exhibitions in the UK, including those of the works of Turner, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Monet and Van Gogh. GIS has also covered loans of artwork from around the world.

GIS encourage non-national institutions to mount important exhibitions, or add to existing collections, without incurring the high cost of commercial insurance.

Are parents obliged to supervise their children the entire visit?

Parents/carers have an obligation to properly supervise a child and it may be possible to take legal action against the parent/carer, if it can be shown that the adult acted negligently by neglecting to supervise the child properly which then results in an accident or damage being caused.

In the case of a young child accompanied by a parent/carer, the adult could be held wholly or partly responsible. It would therefore be advisable to supervise the child for the entire duration of the visit.

Do different rules apply if artwork is displayed in a dedicated children’s area?

 There are no different rules that would apply if the artwork was within a dedicated children’s area, however you would expect that a gallery or museum would put additional measures in place to protect artworks that are displayed in an area designed for children.

If the insurer for the gallery gives me a bill for destroyed artwork, can I challenge it?

If an insurer was to provide a bill for damages, in the first instance you should argue that the article was insured and that they or the Secretary of State (if a GIS is in place), should pay for accidental damage caused. If an insurer can prove that you have been negligent and that the damage has been caused as a result, this may prove more difficult to challenge.

In cases where deliberate damage has been caused, this could result in you being pursued for criminal damage by the police. In 2012, a Dublin man Andrew Shannon was given a six-year prison sentence for putting his fist through a Monet painting the “Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat”, estimated to be worth €10 million (£7m).

Would LEI cover me for disputing or contesting a case in court?

Generally legal expenses insurance policies would not cover this type of claim, however in the event that you were issued with a legal claim it would be wise to check with your legal expenses insurer, or your liability insurer to see if they could support you in defending a claim.

In order for a gallery or museum to be sued for any damage caused to items in its care, a third party would have to establish that the museum had failed in their duty of care and had in some way been negligent.

Sarah Garner, DAS Law

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