Common Law Indemnification - A Primer

Stick figures teaching

Evaluating whether common law indemnification (or contribution) applies in a given case is complicated and requires consideration of the relevant facts on a case-by-case basis.

April 12, 2021
Brian F. Mark - Hurwitz & Fine, P.C.

“Common law indemnification is generally available ‘in favor of one who is held responsible solely by operation of law because of his relationship to the wrongdoer.’” McCarthy v. Turner Constr., Inc., 17 N.Y.3d 369, 375 (2011), quoting Mas v. Two Bridges Assocs., 75 N.Y.2d 680, 690 (1990).

What is Common Law Indemnification and Who Can Assert it?

Indemnification, in general terms, is the right of one party to shift a loss to another and may be based upon an express contract or an implied obligation. Bellevue S. Assoc. v. HRH Constr. Corp., 78 N.Y.2d 282 (1991). Based on a separate duty owed the indemnitee by the indemnitor, common law indemnification, or implied indemnification, permits one who was compelled to pay for the wrong of another to recover from the wrongdoer the damages paid to the injured party. D’Ambrosio v. City of New York, 55 N.Y.2d 454, 460 (1982); Curreri v. Heritage Prop. Inv. Trust, Inc., 48 A.D.3d 505, 507 (2d Dept. 2008).

The premise of common law indemnification is vicarious liability, defined as “liability that a supervisory party (such as an employer) bears for the actionable conduct of a subordinate or associate (such as an employee) based on the relationship between the two parties” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). Common law indemnification “reflects an inherent fairness as to which party should be held liable for indemnity.” McCarthy, 17 N.Y.3d at 375. It is a restitution concept which permits shifting the loss because, to fail to do so, would result in the unjust enrichment of one party at the expense of the other. Mas, 75 N.Y.2d at 680, 690; Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center v. Islam, 172 A.D.3d 1342, 1343 (2d Dept. 2019).

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