ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY v. STEPHEN PALUMBO et al., SC 18276
Judicial District of New Haven at Meriden
Insurance; Subrogation; Whether the Defendant, who was Living with his Fiancee in her Home and had Negligently Caused a Fire in that Home, is Liable to his Fiancee's Insurer Under the Doctrine of Equitable Subrogation. Lisa Deveau was the owner of real property located in Coventry, which was insured by the plaintiff. Deveau lived with her fiance, the defendant, in her Coventry home. In 2002, the defendant negligently caused a fire in Deveau's home, and the plaintiff paid Deveau $61,493.29 for the damage caused by the fire. The plaintiff then commenced this subrogation action against the defendant, seeking to recover the damages that it paid to Deveau. By way of special defense, the defendant claimed that (1) he was an insured person pursuant to Deveau's policy with the plaintiff, (2) he and Deveau were in a landlord-tenant relationship, (3) he was a tenant, (4) he was a lodger and (5) subrogation was not equitable. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the defendant was not an insured and that there was no landlord-tenant relationship. In finding that the defendant was not a tenant, the court reasoned that although he had shared in the household expenses, he had no lease with Deveau, he had not paid a fixed amount of rent, he had no fixed period of occupancy, and he had not paid a security deposit. Moreover, it stated that he shared the entire home with Deveau and that no one had exclusive use of any particular area. The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Court (109 Conn. App. 731) affirmed the trial court's ruling. In reviewing the applicable landlord-tenant statutory definitions, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court properly concluded that the defendant and Deveau were not in a landlord-tenant relationship. It also rejected the defendant's argument that if he was not a tenant, he had a landlord-roomer or landlord-lodger relationship with Deveau, thereby subjecting him to the landlord-tenant laws. The Appellate Court noted that in order to determine whether a person is a guest rather than a roomer or lodger, the court may consider the length of the person's stay, whether the person had a special contract for a room, whether the person had another abode and the extent to which the person had made the room his home. It further indicated that the difficulty in determining the defendant's status arose from the fact that he was more than a social guest because he contributed to the household expenses but was less than a tenant because he paid no fixed amount of rent, had no fixed period of occupancy and was transient because Deveau could terminate his stay at any time by terminating their relationship. It stated, however, that it could not conclude that the trial court's implicit determination that the defendant was more like a social houseguest was clearly erroneous since the defendant could remain as an occupant of Deveau's home for only as long as she chose to allow him to do so and because he had few characteristics of a tenant. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court properly determined that the defendant was liable to the plaintiff under the doctrine of equitable subrogation.