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Two Stanley Cup rings, valued at $15,000 each, were listed among the stolen items. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Two Stanley Cup rings, valued at $15,000 each, were listed among the stolen items. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Lawsuit

How the Bronfmans’ ‘standard of living’ got lost in the fine print Add to ...

Four years ago, thieves broke into Paul and Judy Bronfman’s Toronto mansion and reportedly made off with more than $2-million worth of jewellery, including a long list of gold and silver family heirlooms, a flawless six-carat diamond and two 1970s Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup rings.

And as if a brazen robbery that saw burglars somehow get away with an entire 310-pound safe wasn’t disturbing enough, the prominent couple are now embroiled in a court battle with their insurance broker, after their insurer turned down almost all of their $2-million claim.

In a downtown Toronto courtroom, the Bronfmans are suing BFL Canada Risk and Insurance Services Inc. for $3-million, alleging the company failed to tailor the pair’s insurance policies to their “standard of living.”

The November, 2008, robbery at the family’s 22,000-square-foot home in the upscale Forest Hill neighbourhood made headlines.

Well-known for their philanthropy, the couple is part of the wealthy Montreal-based Bronfman business dynasty. Mr. Bronfman, chairman and chief executive officer of Comweb Corp., is recognized as a leader in Canada’s film and TV production industry.

During Mrs. Bronfman’s testimony earlier this month, the Bronfmans’ lawyer, Brian Brock, went through a list of high-priced jewellery and asked her about each one, including an 18-karat gold ring with a “pear-shaped amethyst” that belonged to her mother, and a Gucci dog tag that belonged to her son.

At one point, Mr. Brock asked her about a bracelet the Bronfmans listed as stolen for which they had no photograph. “I don’t have the picture,” Mrs. Bronfman said. “But at least I have the memories.”

Her lawyer then asked her how she knew that a pair of hoop earrings she listed as missing was in fact made of 18-karat gold: “I would say they were 18-karat because my husband bought them for me. And Paul, I think, always buys me the best.”

BFL’s lawyer, Deborah Berlach, declined to comment while the trial was under way. The Bronfmans and Mr. Brock also declined to comment outside the courtroom.

According to court documents, the robbers got their hands on a long list of high-priced jewellery as well as $50,000 cash. But the Bronfmans’ insurance policies with AIG Assurance had coverage limits of just $20,000 for jewellery and $1,500 for cash.

In a statement of claim filed in 2009, the Bronfmans blame Toronto-based BFL for allegedly failing to alert them to their coverage limits and for neglecting to inspect or appraise the couple’s collection of jewellery.

The Bronfmans allege BFL failed to advise them of “unreasonable gaps” in their coverage. And they say that given the firm’s knowledge of their “standard of living and the contents of their home and cottage, BFL knew or ought to have known that the Plaintiffs required substantial insurance for such contents, including jewellery and cash.”

BFL, which had been the couple’s insurance broker since 2004, counters in a statement of defence filed with the court that alleged the Bronfmans “were aware of the limits of coverage.” The firm says it reminded the Bronfmans, in letters about annual policy renewals, that “valuable items such as jewellery, furs, fine arts, securities, etc. have special limits.”

Plus, BFL alleges, in 2004, the Bronfmans boosted their jewellery coverage from $10,000 to $20,000, suggesting they “were aware of the limits of their jewellery coverage and made a conscious decision not to add additional coverage prior to the robbery.”

In court, the Bronfmans called Marc Juteau, of Montreal-based Classic Auctions Inc., a company that specializes in high-end sports memorabilia, to testify about the value of the two missing Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup rings. The rings date back to when Mr. Bronfman’s father, Edward Bronfman, and his uncle, Peter Bronfman, owned the team in the 1970s.

Mr. Juteau said the two diamond-encrusted rings, one from 1973-74 and the other from 1975-76, were likely worth $15,000 each. But BFL’s lawyer disputed the extent of Mr. Juteau’s expertise, noting he was not a jeweller.

Ms. Berlach also suggested the two rings, inscribed with the Bronfman name, would be worth less than a Stanley Cup ring owned by flamboyant former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, which sold for a similar amount: “Famous owners might attract a higher price for their rings than more sedate owners, correct?”

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