The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court has recently explained the concept of subrogation in a contract of insurance. The full text of the Judgment is available below. Certain excerpts are reproduced below;
17. The principles relating to subrogation can therefore be summarized thus :
(i) Equitable right of subrogation arises when the insurer settles the claim of the assured, for the entire loss. When there is an equitable subrogation in favour of the insurer, the insurer is allowed to stand in the shoes of the assured and enforce the rights of the assured against the wrongdoer.
(ii) Subrogation does not terminate nor puts an end to the right of the assured to sue the wrong-doer and recover the damages for the loss. Subrogation only entitles the insurer to receive back the amount paid to the assured, in terms of the principles of subrogation.
(iii) Where the assured executes a Letter of Subrogation, reducing the terms of subrogation, the rights of the insurer vis-à-vis the assured will be governed by the terms of the Letter of Subrogation.
(iv) A subrogation enables the insurer to exercise the rights of the assured against third parties in the name of the assured. Consequently, any plaint, complaint or petition for recovery of compensation can be filed in the name of the assured, or by the assured represented by the insurer as subrogee-cum-attorney, or by the assured and the insurer as co-plaintiffs or co-complainants.
(v) Where the assured executed a subrogation-cum-assignment in favour of the insurer (as contrasted from a subrogation), the assured is left with no right or interest. Consequently, the assured will no longer be entitled to sue the wrongdoer on its own account and for its own benefit. But as the instrument is a subrogation-cum-assignment, and not a mere assignment, the insurer has the choice of suing in its own name, or in the name of the assured, if the instrument so provides. The insured becomes entitled to the entire amount recovered from the wrongdoer, that is, not only the amount that the insured had paid to the assured, but also any amount received in excess of what was paid by it to the assured, if the instrument so provides.
18. We may clarify the position with reference to the following illustration: The loss to the assured is Rs.1,00,000/-. The insurer settles the claim of the assured for Rs.75,000/-. The wrong-doer is sued for recovery of Rs.1,00,000/-. Where there is no letter of subrogation and insurer relies on the equaitable doctrine of subrogation (The suit is filed by the assured)
(i) If the suit filed for recovery of Rs.100,000/- is decreed as prayed, and the said sum of Rs.1,00,000/- is recovered, the assured would appropriate Rs. 25,000/- to recover the entire loss of Rs. 100,000/- and the doctrine of subrogation would enable the insurer to claim and receive the balance of Rs.75,000
(ii) If the suit filed for recovery of Rs.100,000/- is decreed as prayed for, but the assured is able to recover only Rs.50,000/- from the Judgment-Debtor (wrong-doer), the assured will be entitled to appropriate Rs.25,000/- (which is the shortfall to make up Rs.100,000/- being the loss) and the insurer will be entitled to receive only the balance of Rs. 25,000/- even though it had paid Rs. 75,000/- to the assured.
(iii) Where, the suit is filed for recovery of Rs.100,000/- but the court assesses the loss actually suffered by the assured as only Rs.75,000/- (as against the claim of the assured that the value of goods lost is Rs.100,000/-) and then awards Rs.75,000/- plus costs, the insurer will be entitled to claim and receive the entire amount of Rs.75,000/- in view of the doctrine of subrogation. Where the assured executes a letter of subrogation entitling the insurer to recover Rs. 75,000/- (The suit is filed in the name of the assured or jointly by the assured and insurer).
(iv) If the suit is filed for recovery of Rs.1,00,000/-, and if the court grants Rs.1,00,000/-, the insurer will take Rs.75,000/- and the assured will take Rs.25,000/.
(v) If the insurer sues in the name of the assured for Rs.75,000/- and recovers Rs.75,000/-, the insurer will retain the entire sum of Rs.75,000/- in pursuance of the Letter of Subrogation, even if the assured has not recovered the entire loss of Rs.1,00,000/-. If the assured wants to recover the balance of the loss of Rs.25,000/- as he had received only Rs. 75,000/- from the insurer, the assured should ensure that the claim is made against the wrongdoer for the entire sum of Rs.100,000/- by bearing the proportionate expense. Otherwise the insurer will sue in the name of the assured for only for Rs. 75,000/-.
(vi) If the letter of subrogation executed by the assured when the insurer settles the claim of the assured uses the words that the “assured assigns, transfers and abandons unto the insurer, the right to get Rs.75,000/- from the wrong-doer”, the document will be a ‘subrogation’ in spite of the use of words ‘transfers, assigns and abandons’. This is because the insurer has settled the claim for Rs.75,000/- and the instrument merely entitles the insurer to receive the said sum of Rs.75,000/- which he had paid to the assured, and nothing more. Where the assured executes a letter of subrogation-cum-assignment for Rs.100,000/-
(vii) If the document executed by the assured in favour of the insured provides that in consideration of the settlement of the claim for Rs.75,000/-, the assured has transferred and assigned by way of subrogation and assignment, the right to recover the entire value of the goods lost and retain the entire amount without being accountable to the assured for any excess recovered (over and above Rs.75,000/-) and provides that the insurer may sue in the name of the assured or sue in its own name without reference to the assured, the instrument is a subrogation-cum-assignment and the insurer has the choice of either suing in the name of the assured or in its own name. Where the assured executes a letter of assignment in favour of a third party to sue and recover from the carrier, the value of the consignment
(viii) If the assured, having received Rs.75,000/- from the insurer, executes an instrument in favour of a third party (not being the insurer) assigning the right to sue and recover from the carrier, damages for loss of the consignment, such a document will be an Assignment. The assignee cannot file a complaint before the consumer fora, as he is not a ‘consumer’. Further, such a document being a transfer of a mere right to sue, will be void and unenforceable, having regard to section 6(e) of Transfer of Property Act, 1882. It is well settled that a right to sue for unliquidated damages for breach of contract or for tort, not being a right connected with the ownership of any property, nor being a right to sue for a debt or actionable claim, is a mere right to sue and is incapable of being transferred.
View the decision here.