In New York Cent. Mut. Ins. Co. v. TopBuild Home Servs., Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69634 (April 24, 2019), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently held that the “lesser of two” doctrine applies to subrogation actions, thereby limiting property damages to the lesser of repair costs or the property’s diminution in value.
In New York Cent. Mut. Ins. Co., New York Central Mutual Insurance Company’s (New York Central) insureds, Paul and Karen Mazzola, suffered a fire to their home. After the fire, New York Central paid the Mazzolas $708,465.74 to repair the property. New York Central brought a subrogation action against TopBuild Home Services, Inc. (TopBuild), alleging that the fire was caused by negligent work performed by TopBuild. New York Central sought to recover the repair costs it paid to the Mazzolas. TopBuild conceded liability but disputed the proper measure of damages.
TopBuild filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that under the “lesser of two” doctrine, New York Central could recover only the lesser of the costs to repair the property or the property’s diminution in value. TopBuild, therefore, asserted that New York Central was not entitled to the repair costs of $708,465.74 but, rather, could recover only the property’s decline in value following the fire – approximately $250,000. In response, New York Central argued that New York’s “lesser of two” doctrine does not apply to subrogation actions because an insurance company cannot mitigate the payment it makes to its insured.