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LEGAL AND PRACTICAL SUBROGATION ISSUES IN THE U.S.A.

LEGAL AND PRACTICAL SUBROGATION ISSUES IN THE U.S.A.

and if it can be

and if it can be characterized as catastrophic, the rule will not apply.' For example, if theproduct explodes or fails in a violent or sudden fashion, some courts will not apply therule because the product has created a situation which is potentiaZZy dangerous to personsor other property.While the Economic Loss Rule should only concern products and consumerexpectations, a number of courts have applied it in situations where it does not belong.For example, in one case the court used the rule to bar the claims of tenants who wereforced from their high rise offices when a contractor negligently flooded the basementsof buildings they occupied.' Another court applied the rule when telephone service wasnegligently interrupted to customers in a major metropolitan area.7 Neither case dealtwith the sale of a product or with consumer expectations, but in both cases the courts saidplaintiffs could not recover damages because they were economic losses.While the courts said that they were applying the Economic Loss Rule to thesesituations, the cases really concern the doctrines of proximate cause, foreseeability, andduty. In Madison Avenue Gourmet Foods v. Fiizlandia Center,' the court recognized thedistinction and while barring recovery to a plaintiff who sustained no property damage,did not use the rubric of economic loss. In this case, access to the plaintiffs delicatessenwas blocked when a construction project collapsed on Madison Avenue in New YorkCity. The plaintiff had no property damage and his only loss was for income. In denying5678MP3 20204330.1Bailey Farms Inc. v. Nor-Am. Chemical Company, 27 F.3d 188 (6th Cir. 1994).In Re Chicago Flood, 176 I11.2d 179,680 N.E.2d 265 (1997).In Re Illinois Bell Switching Station, 161 111.2d 233,641 N.E.2d 440 (1994).96 N.Y.2d 280,750 N.E.2d 1097 (2001).-4-

ecovery, the court said that the economic loss rule had no application because that ruledealt with end purchasers of products who were making claims against manufacturers.The court said that the problem needed to be analyzed in the context of defendant’s dutyto plaintiff. In this situation, the court said that a landowner owes a duty to adjoiningproperty owners, but he owes no duty to protect an entire urban neighborhood fromeconomic losses.The Economic Loss Rule is a major limitation on a subrogating insurer’s rights.Since the insurer normally pays for damage to the property as well as for damage fromthe loss of use of that property, it will be unable to recover these economic losses if thejurisdiction is applying the majority rule. On the other hand, if the jurisdiction recognizesthat damage to other property is an exception or looks to the nature of the event, then theinsurer may recover. Unfortunately, a subrogated insurer in one state may find itselfbarred while a subrogated insurer in a state across the border might recover on the samefacts. Such, however, are the vagaries of the judicial system in the United States.2. Home Insurance Compaizv v. Pinski LimitationHome Insurance Company v. Pinski’ dealt with a seemingly straightforwardproposition of law - an insurer cannot subrogate against its own insured. However, thecommon understanding of this rule is that it is applied only to an insured named in thepolicy. Pinski, on the other hand, deals with a very different situation. In Pinski, theHome Indemnity Company paid a property damage loss caused by an explosion at the9MP3 20204330.1160 Mont. 219,500 P.2d 945 (1972).-5-

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