In Am. Reliable Ins. Co. v. Addington., No. 3:21-CV-00848, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 218436, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (the District Court) considered whether a tenant’s live-in partner and the partner’s adult son constituted a “family” in the underlying lease and, thus, were implied co-insureds under the Sutton Rule. The District Court determined that the arrangement did constitute a “family” and that the Sutton Rule barred subrogation.
The Supreme Court of Illinois (Supreme Court) reversed a 2021 appellate court decision which held that an insurer had to duty to defend the property owner’s tenant following a fire at the property. In Sheckler v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co., 2022 IL 128012, the state’s highest court ruled that the appellate court’s reliance on Dix Mutual Insurance Co. v. LaFramboise, 597 N.E. 2d 622 (Ill. 1992) was misplaced as the ruling in Dix was limited to a specific set of facts, which did not apply to the current case.
In Westfield Inc. Co. v. Ritcher, No. 20-CV-12692, 2021 U.S. Dist. Lexis 94926, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan considered whether a residential tenant was an implied co-insured on the landlord’s insurance policy, and thus shielded from a subrogation claim brought by the landlord’s carrier for fire damage caused by the tenant’s negligence. The court found that the tenant was an implied co-insured on the landlord’s insurance policy, but only with regards to the apartment that the tenant leased. The tenant was not shielded from claims for damage to the rest of the building, the contents of other residents and the landlord’s rental loss income. Continue reading
Pursuant to the Sutton Doctrine, first announced in Sutton v. Jondahl, 532 P.2d 478 (Okla. Ct. App. 1975), some jurisdictions consider a tenant a coinsured of its landlord absent an express agreement to the contrary. In Ro v. Factory Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2019-0620, 2021 N.H. LEXIS 34 (Mar. 10, 2021), the Supreme Court of New Hampshire held that the Sutton Doctrine, adopted by New Hampshire in Cambridge Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Crete, 846 A.2d 521 (N.H. 2004), extends to resident students in a college dormitory. Thus, absent specific language to the contrary, a student is an implied coinsured under the fire insurance policy issued for his or her dormitory. Continue reading
In Travelers Indem. Co. of Am. v. Schwarz Props., L.L.C., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18176, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina considered whether the lease between a commercial tenant and its landlord barred the tenant’s insurance carrier from subrogating against the landlord for damages to the tenant’s goods. The court found that the tenant’s carrier could not subrogate against the landlord because the lease clearly and explicitly stated that the landlord was not responsible for the tenant’s property. In addition, the lease required the tenant to insure its own property and to hold the landlord harmless for any damage to the tenant’s goods. This case establishes that, in North Carolina, negligence claims between a landlord and tenant may be barred if the lease includes clear and explicit exculpatory and indemnification provisions. Continue reading
In Joella v. Cole, 2019 PA Super. 313, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently considered whether a tenant, alleged by the landlord’s property insurance carrier to have carelessly caused a fire, was an implied co-insured on the landlord’s policy. The court found that the tenant was an implied co-insured because the lease stated that the landlord would procure insurance for the building, which created a reasonable expectation that the tenant would be a co-insured under the policy. Since the tenant was an implied co-insured on the policy, the insurance carrier could not maintain a subrogation action against the tenant. This case confirms that Pennsylvania follows a case-by-case approach when determining whether a tenant was an implied co-insured on a landlord’s insurance policy. Continue reading
In Western Heritage Ins. Co. v. Frances Todd, Inc. 2019 Cal. App. Lexis 299, the Court of Appeals of California, First Appellate District, addressed whether a commercial condominium association’s carrier could subrogate against the tenants (aka lessees) of one of its member unit owners. After examining the condominium association’s declarations, as well as the lease terms between the owner and the lessees, the court held that the association’s carrier could not subrogate against the lessees because they were implied co-insureds on the policy. To reach its decision, the court explained that an insurer steps into the shoes of its insured, not the party with whom it is in privity. Although the first-party property portion of the association’s insurance policy did not, as required by the association’s declarations, have the owner listed as an additional named insured, the court held that it would be inequitable to treat the association as the sole insured for purposes of determining Western Heritage’s right to bring a subrogation action. Continue reading
In Melrose Gates, LLC v. Chor Moua, et al., 875 N.W.2d 814 (Minn. 2016), the Supreme Court of Minnesota, applying the factors the court first articulated in RAM Mutual Insurance Company v. Rohde, 820 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 2012), analyzed whether the parties to an apartment lease reasonably expected that the tenants would be liable in subrogation for fire damage caused by the tenants’ negligence. The Melrose Gates court held that, based on the language of the lease, the type of insurance the parties purchased, and the fact that the building was a multi-unit structure, the parties intended that the tenants would be responsible for damage to their leased unit but not for damage to other property. Thus, while the landlord’s insurer could recover the amount it paid to repair the damage to the tenants’ unit, it could not recover the amount it paid to repair other units or common areas of the building.
Many subrogation specialists are aware of the potential issues posed by the Sutton Doctrine. Decided by the Oklahoma Court of Appeals in 1975, Sutton v. Jondahl, 532 P.2d 478 (Okla. App. 1975), holds that, absent an express agreement to the contrary, a tenant is presumed to be a co-insured under the landlord’s fire insurance policy. Because subrogation is forbidden against one’s own insured, the Sutton Doctrine can bar landlord/tenant subrogation actions. West Virginia, like many states, however, has adopted its own approach to landlord/tenant subrogation.