Legal Question in Insurance Law in California

Almost two months ago my wife was frying on the stove. A fire erupted and in a panic she doused the flame with water, which cause the flames to erupt upwards. My landlord had an inspection done regarding the restoration cost. He has been paid $6,000 for the damages from his insurance company. Today I received a call from a law firm representing the insurance company telling me I am liable for the damages. At first, I thought this was fraud. Am I liable for theses damages as a tenant?

Asked on 9/25/13, 9:43 pm

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1 Answer from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

Probably, though if I had additional facts (like the terms of your lease) I might see ways to argue otherwise. Even if you're not liable, your wife probably is. Your landlord's insurer does not have to absorb the loss your wife caused, and you are not entitled to escape liability just because your landlord is insured.

If the landlord didn't have insurance, he could sue you and/or your wife for negligence. You would have to compensate the landlord for his resulting losses. The fact that you don't own the property does not mean you can freely damage it.

Because the landlord does have insurance, he has little incentive to sue you. But the insurer is allowed to sue you in his place. Insurance policies almost always give the insurer the right to subrogate a claim that it pays, which means it can seek damages just as the insured could have. When an insurer believes the person who caused the damages can be sued successfully and can be made to pay the resulting judgment, it will probably sue.

Many people who have never dealt with subrogation claims don't realize that they are allowed. The concept is counterintuitive. After all, the insured has been compensated for his loss. But insurance would be a lot more expensive if insurers had to absorb every claim they paid, and the people who caused the covered harm would undeservedly escape the consequences of their actions.

I know this isn't the answer you were hoping for. I'm sorry I can't be more encouraging.

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Answered on 9/26/13, 10:25 am

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