When the insurance won’t pay for a broken cello

When the insurance won’t pay for a broken cello


norman lebrecht

November 27, 2022

Tim Smedley, head of Chamber Music at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, saved a presenter’s neck last summer when his cello broke the man’s fall from a stage at the Buxton International Festival.

The instrument can be repaired for £25,000 but the insurance has written it off because it is not a ‘name’ brand.

Tim tells slippedisc.com: ‘I’m devastated to lose my beautiful instrument in this way. It is a high quality 18th century cello but as it was unnamed, its market value did not match its quality.’

So he has launched a gofunding campaign: ‘I have received quotes for the repair of up to £25,000… but I hope that the repair would cost less. Anything generated through this fund would be incredibly helpful in my quest to bring the cello back to life. Any surplus funds will be donated to Help Musicians, who have supported many friends and colleagues so brilliantly over recent years. Should I not raise enough funds for a complete repair to be possible, I would put any money generated towards the purchase of a new cello… Again, anything not required for this would be donated to Help Musicians.’

Do help if you can here.


  • Curzon Tussaud says:

    If the insurers won’t pay out on the basis that the ‘cello wasn’t named, then they should not have accepted premiums for an unnamed instrument.

    • Bill says:

      Well, they aren’t going to pay out more than the instrument is insured for, which is notably absent from the story. If you’ve only paid for cover on an instrument value of 10K, when you get the repair estimate of 20K, you need to find another 10K in the couch cushions if you want the work done. I’ve never seen a cover proposal for an instrument that did not spell out the amount covered.

      I think the lack of a name simply meant the insured value was accordingly low, which is great when you are writing the premium check, but not when you are cashing the payout check…

      Full cover or not, losing one’s instrument is a harsh blow!

    • MacroV says:

      I assume it’s like a car; they probably insured the instrument, but seeing the estimated repair cost, determined that it made more financial sense to declare it a wreck – I assume because the estimated cost is probably more than the likely market value of the repaired instrument. No matter the instrument’s perceived value to its owner.

      So instead they’ll pay the owner for the market value (pre-accident) of the instrument, and he can put that money toward a new instrument.

      But we’re talking a cello, not a car.

    • Pat says:

      The insurance company have paid out the full amount the cello was insured for….but it doesn’t really help the situation does it?

    • Steve says:

      I think you’re rather missing the point. The insurers are not saying they won’t pay out, they’re saying that they’ll only pay out the market value of the instrument which they deem to be less than the repair costs. This is quite standard in many insurance contracts. The same will usually apply if you crash your car. The solution would have been an agreed value policy or a policy specifically guaranteeing to meet repair costs irrespective of the amount, the premiums for which would have been higher.

    • Hacomblen says:

      Presumably it was insured for an amount lower than £25k, owing to its not being “named”. The premiums will therefore have been lower based on that valuation. There’s no implication that the insurer is doing anything wrong here, just a perceived unfairness that the lack of a label makes the instrument less valuable. That’s all fluff. The story is that he needs help to get back on track after a freak accident.

    • R.L. Horn says:

      It would appear that they paid the market value, but not the cost of repairs for an instrument that, going by the photos, is largely going to have to be rebuilt from scratch.

    • Anon says:

      As many others have said, it looks as if the player underinsured the instrument. If repair cost is more than insured value, it’s a write-off. He will have got the insured value as a payout.

    • Fred says:

      The number of likes just illustrates how clueless people are about these things. An item is insured for an agreed valued sum. If the cost of repair exceeds the value it is written off. No different to any other insurance. The cello was clearly valued below 25K and that’s not the insurers problem.

  • Vladimir says:

    This sounds like potentially misleading wording – they consider it a write-off and therefore won’t pay to have it repaired, will only pay the replacement value as covered? Or are they refusing to pay anything, for some other reason that’s missing here?

  • Robert Holmén says:

    In the US someone would be found liable for this cost even if the player’s personal insurance didn’t cover his old cello.

    The venue (improper safety guards), the guy who fell on the cello (carelessness), the organizers of the event (both of the above)… any of those might have insurance for damages they have contributed to causing.

    That’s what lawyers are for, to deal with after you have asked nicely and been refused. That would apply to the player’s insurance also.

    Of course they are not going to pay a $25,000 claim if they can make up some reason not to!

    • SVM says:

      I am not a lawyer, but I am fairly sure that Smedley has a strong claim under UK law. Accidents of this kind demonstrate why freelancers, employers, and venues almost always have public liability insurance. Smedley should be trying to claim compensation from Dale (who has donated only £300 to the fundraiser — how mean, given that he was the one who crushed the instrument), the organisers, and/or the venue, and should *not* be asking for donations from the public until he has exhausted those options, to be honest. When he makes the claim, it should also include provision for compensating *his* insurance company for the payout it made to him for the market value of the instrument (he should not have to return that payout, because he is going to need it to cover the cost of acquiring another instrument for the couple of years the repair is expected to take).

      • christopher storey says:

        SVM’s comment is entirely correct : the third party’s insurer is liable for the cost of repair, not merely for the lower open market value . This is particularly the case where the insured article is not one you can merely replace from a large pool of identical items

      • Anon says:

        I’m in insurance and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t. The old advertising slogan “where there’s blame there’s a claim” has a counterpart – “without blame there’s no (liability) claim.”

        If everyone took reasonable precautions and still someone fell off the stage – it’s an accident. No blame, no liability.

  • Emrla says:

    I’m confused. Will the insurer not pay the appraised value?

  • Fred Funk says:

    The insurance company doesn’t know the difference between a viola, and a trampoline.

  • Daniel says:

    Get and carefully study a copy of the insurance declaration. After body-slamming atop my bass and initially getting shot out of the saddle by our homeowners insurance, we found “income-generating personal property” was indeed covered…

  • Normski Lestanislavski says:

    The article is hazy on some details. As I understand it the ‘cellist will receive the not inconsiderable insured amount to facilitate the purchase of a replacement instrument.

    On top of this, the GoFundMe page will fund the repair of the damaged ‘cello, thus leaving Smedley with two instruments.