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.
The Joella case stems from a fire at an apartment building in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The landlord’s property insurance carrier paid the landlord $180,000 to repair the damages resulting from the fire. In March 2018, the insurer brought a subrogation action against Annie Cole, a tenant in the building, alleging that Ms. Cole’s negligent use of an extension cord caused the fire. Ms. Cole raised the affirmative defense that she was an implied co-insured on the landlord’s insurance policy. The subrogating insurer filed a partial motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss Ms. Cole’s defense. In response, Ms. Cole filed a cross motion for partial judgment, arguing that because the lease specified that the landlord would maintain fire insurance for the building, there was a reasonable expectation that she would be a co-insured on that policy. The trial court found in favor of Ms. Cole, holding that the landlord’s insurer could not maintain a subrogation action against her because she was an implied co-insured of the landlord’s insurance policy under the terms of the lease. The landlord’s insurer filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.