Pennsylvania Superior Court Fires up a Case-By-Case Analysis for Landlord-Tenant, Implied Co-Insured Questions

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Gus Sara of White and Williams discusses Joella v. Cole.

February 3, 2020
Gus Sara - The Subrogation Strategist

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.

Mr. Sara may be contacted at sarag@whiteandwilliams.com



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