Pursuing tenants whose negligence causes damage to neighborhood units or common areas in apartment complexes, commercial business buildings, or condominiums, has become a complicated area of law in which the “Sutton Rule” or “implied coinsured” defense is often confronted. The ability of a landlord’s property insurer to subrogate against a tenant for property damage caused by the negligence of the tenant depends on which state the loss occurs in and the nature and language of the lease involved. There are generally three different approaches:

  1. A minority of courts hold that, absent a clear contractual expression to the contrary, the insurance carrier will be permitted to sue a tenant in subrogation.
  2. Seeking to avoid a per se rule, in some states the ability to subrogate must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and governed by the intent and reasonable expectations of the parties under the terms of the lease and the facts of case.
  3. Known as the “Sutton Rule”, some states hold that, absent a clearly expressed agreement to the contrary, the tenant is presumed to be a co-insured on the landlord’s insurance policy, and therefore the landlord’s insurance carrier has no right of subrogation against the negligent tenant. The rule of subrogation known as the “Sutton Rule” states that a tenant and landlord are automatically considered “co-insureds” under a fire insurance policy as a matter of law and, therefore, the insurer of the landlord who pays for the fire damage caused by the negligence of a tenant may not sue the tenant in subrogation because it would be tantamount to suing its own insured.

MWL aggressively pursues residential and commercial tenants whose actions cause property damage or personal injury and necessitate claim payments by the landlord or premises owners or their insurance company. Because our subrogation practice extends across North America, we understand and are familiar with the law regarding landlord/tenant subrogation in every jurisdiction. This allows us to quickly and accurately review leases and other contracts to determine the viability of subrogating against a tenant, even in states in which the Sutton Rule predominates.