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The Supreme Court of New York has ruled that a group of insurers may “amend their answer”, in a legal battle initiated by the American banker and collector Ron Perelman.
In the latest installment of the three-year dispute, the defendants, UK insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, were permitted to update their defense with their claim that Perelman previously provided “false testimony” to the court, when he suggested he never intended to sell the five works that he claims were damaged in a 2018 fire at his 57-acre estate in the Hamptons.
“In essence, what we’re alleging is that Ronald Perelman intentionally gave false testimony during an examination under oath in July 2021,” Charles Michael, one of the defense lawyers, stated at the latest hearing, held late last month.
Details were provided as evidence of the latest claims, including how members of Perelman’s staff called Sotheby’s auction house and how dealer Larry Gagosian and collector Ken Griffin were invited to the property to view one of the five works, by Cy Twombly. The amendment ultimately challenged Perelman’s previous insistence that “he didn’t want to sell them because he didn’t want to have to tell buyers that the art was in a fire and had been damaged”.
The amendment also asked how attempts to sell works would “square with insurance claim[s]” and concluded that this, alongside subsequent sales of other works which had also been in the property (including a Brice Marden painting, Letter about Rocks, sold in December 2020 for $30m) resulted in a situation that Michael, the lawyer for Lloyd’s, described as “a pure economic play. Where these paintings can be sold, they are not damaged. If they can’t be sold, they are damaged. And they all endured the same thing. It’s highly suspect.”
In its response to the request for amendment, lawyers for Perelman (who filed the lawsuit through his holding companies, collectively identified as AGP Holdings) argued that any attempts to sell “had absolutely no impact on what the insurers did or did not do”.
Major insurance claims spark questions over ‘damaged art’
Perelman’s representatives also refer to the somewhat unusual insurance policy, which covers works in which “if these pieces are partly physically damaged, under the meaning of that policy, which to us means .00001% damage because of that fire or its handling, we get the scheduled value. That is the policy they agreed to.”
Perelman’s representatives also refuted the broader allegation that he had been actively attempting to sell any of the five works involved in the lawsuit (two works by Andy Warhol, two pieces by Ed Ruscha and a final piece by Twombly). “There is no evidence that he did offer to sell it,” C. Bryan Wilson, one of the lawyers from Perelman’s team, said. “There is evidence that people in his company thought about it and spoke to an auction house about it.” He added, “Never offered it. Never tried to sell it.”
Now the motion to amend is granted, summary judgement is due to start in early January 2024. Legal representatives from both parties declined to comment at this stage.