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Yea verily, false wine fails to win insurance recompense

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Fake wine does not age as well as a fine wine.

David Doyle, a collector of rare vintage wine, insured his collection against loss or damage by purchasing a valuable possessions policy from Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. with a blanket policy limit of $19 million, starting in 2007 and renewing the policy eight times, according to a decision by California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 3 published on Thursday.

During the eight years that Mr. Doyle was insured under the policy, he purchased close to $18 million of purportedly rare vintage wine from Rudy Kurniawan. But a law enforcement investigation revealed that for many years Mr. Kurniawan had apparently been filling empty wine bottles with his own wine blend and affixing counterfeit labels to the bottles.

In 2013, Mr. Kurniawan was convicted of fraud and sent to prison for 10 years. In 2014, Mr. Doyle filed a claim seeking reimbursement from Fireman’s Fund for the losses he sustained due to Mr. Kurniawan’s fraud. But the insurer denied all coverage stating there was no covered “loss” under the policy.

In 2015, Mr. Doyle filed an amended complaint alleging breach of contract, among other causes of action, but Fireman’s Fund filed a demurrer, which the trial court sustained without leave to amend.

Associate Justice Eileen Moore of the appellate court liberally quoted Shakespeare’s “Othello” in rejecting Mr. Doyle’s claims against the insurer.

“O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!” — from Act 2, Scene 3, the judge helpfully points out in case the details of “Othello” elude you.

“Yea verily, we are presented with a most unfortunate tale of a villainous wine dealer who sold millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit wine to an unsuspecting wine collector,” Justice Moore said. “We agreeth with the trial court — the wine collector suffered a financial loss, but there was no loss to property that was covered by the property insurance policy. In other words, the wine collector is stuck with the devil wine without recompense.

“A Shakespearean tragedy, to be sure,” she added.

Although Justice Moore and her judicial colleagues rejected Mr. Doyle’s claims, they offered him a “small piece of wisdom from the Bard of Avon.”

“The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief” — Othello, Act 1, Scene 3.