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Court to take landlord-tenant insurance query

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The Indiana Supreme Court has accepted a certified question from a federal judge, and will now consider a state law issue that it hasn't before: whether a tenant is considered a co-insured under a landlord's fire insurance policy if there's no express agreement saying otherwise.

An order dated Monday was posted online today in Auto-Owners Insurance Company a/s/o David M. Brown v. Carolyn Young, d/b/a Peddlers Corner Cafe, No. 94S00-0909-CQ-417. The case comes from the Southern District of Indiana's New Albany division, where U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker asked the state justices to weigh in on the issue according to Indiana Appellate Rule 64.

Filed in September 2008, the case involves an Orange County woman who leased property for a cafe from plaintiff David M. Brown, who was insured by the Michigan-based company Auto-Owners. The two are siblings and didn't have a formal written lease agreement, though they discussed generally the terms of the agreement. She said Brown told her he had building insurance and that she'd only need coverage for her personal property and assets, and that's what she obtained, according to the complaint.

A September 2006 fire damaged the property and Brown received nearly $84,000 from his insurance carrier, but just before the two-year-statute of limitations ran out Auto-Owners filed a complaint that alleged the fire and damage was a result of Young's negligence and that it should be able to recover the payments to Brown.

In a motion to dismiss, Young contended that Auto-Owners has no subrogation rights against her because her interests were insured under Brown's insurance policy. Judge Barker analyzed the issue and relied on Sutton v. Jondahl, 532 P. 2d 478 (C.App.Okla. 1975), which said that a tenant should be deemed a co-insured under a landlord's fire policy if there isn't a written agreement. But since that precedent isn't controlling here and this is an issue of first impression for Indiana law, Judge Barker asked the Indiana Supreme Court to consider the question.

With that, Young's federal motion to dismiss has been administratively closed pending a resolution by the Indiana Supreme Court. The state court wants simultaneous briefing in the case, and the main and response briefs are all due by Dec. 2. Any oral arguments will be scheduled at a later time, the court's order says.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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