In this recent decision in the Queen’s Bench Division, the court examined the meaning of “property belonging to” in the context of a landlord’s insurance policy. The court also examined the scope of the decision in Mark Rowlands v Berni Inns Ltd .
Palliser Limited (‘Palliser’) was the lessee of the three upper floors of 228 York Road, London (‘the Building’), which contained 7 flats. The Building was owned by Fate Limited (‘Fate’), which also operated a restaurant on the ground floor. Under the terms of the lease, Fate agreed to take out insurance that covered damage to the Building.
On 1 January 2010, a fire occurred in the restaurant as a result of Fate’s negligence, causing extensive damage to the three upper floors.
In 2016, Palliser sued Fate. The claim settled in 2017 after Fate became insolvent. Following a case management conference in March 2018, the claim was allowed to continue against Fate’s insurers (‘the Insurers’) under the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Act 2010 (‘the Act’).
Palliser claimed an indemnity from the Insurers under the Public Liability section of Fate’s policy (“Section 6”), for losses suffered as a result of the fire. Two heads of loss were claimed: (1) refurbishment costs; and (2) lost profits, on the basis that Palliser had lost the opportunity to sell the 7 flats and reinvest the proceeds in subsequent developments.
There were three issues for the Court to decide:
1. Did Fate’s policy cover its liability to Palliser (the First Issue)?
2. Under the lease, did Palliser impliedly exclude Fate’s liability for negligence because Fate agreed to take out insurance that covered damage to the Building (‘the Second Issue’)?
3. Did Palliser establish that it had suffered a loss of profits?
Palliser’s claim for lost profits failed on the facts, and this article concentrates on just the First and Second Issues.
The First Issue
Fate’s policy (‘the Policy’) stated that the insured was “Fate”, its business was “restaurant”, and the risk address was “228 York Road, London”.
Section 6 provided cover for “Accidental Damage to Property not belonging to you or in Your charge or under Your control or that of any Employee”. The question to be answered, therefore, was whether the three upper floors fell within this designation.
Palliser argued that “not belonging to” had a different meaning to “not owned by”. In this regard, it said that, because it had control and exclusive possession of the flats, the property did not belong to Fate, in that sense. Further, Palliser said that the Buildings section of the Policy (“Section 9”) did not cover the flats as they were not occupied for the purposes of the business.
The Insurers argued that Section 6 did not cover Palliser’s loss, as the whole building was owned by Fate. They argued that “not belonging to you” was synonymous with “not owned by you”, and that the granting of exclusive possession to Palliser did not mean that Fate, as the landlord, was no longer an owner. They also argued that, because Section 9 provided cover for the Building, the exclusion in Section 6 for property belonging to Fate made perfect sense.
The Judge agreed with the Insurers, and found that the Building did indeed “belong to” Fate as the freehold owner. Further, the Judge said that Section 6 and Section 9 should be viewed as fitting together, with cover for the buildings (which included the upper-floors) being dealt with in Section 9, not Section 6. Accordingly, Palliser’s claims failed, subject to a small portion of the refurbishment costs for fixtures and fittings (£8,500) which unquestionably did not belong to Fate. However, that smaller sum would still be dependent on the Judge’s finding on the Second Issue.
The Second Issue
The Judge referred to this issue as the ‘Berni Inns’ defence (in reference to the case of Mark Rowlands Ltd v Berni Inns Ltd  QB 211). There, a lease provided that a landlord would insure a building against fire and lay out the insurance monies to rebuild it, while the tenant was to contribute to the cost of the premium by an “insurance rent”, and was relieved from its repairing obligations in the event of damage by fire.
The building was destroyed by a fire as a result of the tenant’s negligence, following which the landlord’s insurers (using their rights of subrogation) sued the tenant in negligence. The Court of Appeal held that the covenants in the lease meant that the buildings insurance was effected for the benefit of the tenant as well as the landlord, and that the contractual arrangements precluded the landlord from recovering damages in negligence from the tenant.
Palliser submitted that Berni inns was distinguishable, as here it was the landlord which had been negligent, not the tenant. However, even if it was wrong about that, Palliser argued that the Berni Inns defence did not apply because Fate underinsured the building.
The Insurers argued that the Berni Inns defence did apply, making reference to the fact that Palliser had not paid for the insurance, and that the covenants in the lease were very similar to those in Berni Inns.
Although the Judge agreed that Berni Inns was significantly different to the present case, he did not decide whether the defence applied, and instead held that that its application had to be qualified because the building was underinsured. He held that it could not be correct that the tenant had impliedly excluded the landlord’s liability in negligence, since, if it were, there would be an implied exclusion even where the landlord failed to take out buildings insurance at all. As a result, Palliser was at least entitled to recover the £8,500 refurbishment costs.
The case is an interesting example of how the Act will work where insurers run coverage and liability defences at the same time.
So, on the First Issue, because the damage was covered by the property damage section, rather than the third-party liability section of the Policy, the Act did not apply.
As to the Second Issue, although the Judge found in favour of Palliser (albeit only for a small sum), it is unclear whether the outcome would have been different had the Building been adequately insured.
Alex Rosenfield is an associate at Fenchurch Law