Lender Entitled To Full Amount Of Insurance Proceeds From Fire Loss: Borrower Responsible For Own Attorney Fees
Lesson. If a borrower engages an attorney to help with an insurance claim arising out of a loss to mortgaged property, generally the attorney will not be paid from the insurance proceeds, which belong to the lender as a loss payee.
Legal issue. Whether Borrower’s attorney was entitled to a cut of the insurance proceeds following a fire that damaged Borrower’s house.
Vital facts. Borrower and Lender entered into a mortgage loan. A fire destroyed the house on the mortgaged real estate.
As is typical, the mortgage required insurance against certain losses, including fire. The customary language in the mortgage also stated that, in the event of a loss, the insurance proceeds may be applied by Lender either (a) to the reduction of the indebtedness owed under the promissory note or (b) to the restoration or repair of the damaged property. Borrower’s insurance policy had a standard provision that any loss payments would be paid to Borrower unless “some other person is named in the policy or is legally entitled to receive payment” (a so-called “loss payee”). With respect to lenders/mortgagees named in the policy, the mortgage went on to express that losses shall be paid “to the mortgagee and you, as interests appear.” Lender was a loss payee on Borrower’s hazard insurance policy.
Borrower engaged a law firm to represent her in connection with the fire loss. The insurer issued settlement checks in the amount of $74,373.23 that were jointly payable to Borrower, Lender and Borrower’s law firm. The proceeds were less than the total amount of Borrower’s debt.
Procedural history. A lawsuit arose in which Lender and Borrower sought a determination by the trial court of Borrower’s law firm’s rights to the insurance proceeds. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Lender, and Borrower appealed.
Key rules. Indiana law generally provides that, because a mortgage is a contract, the parties “are free to enter into an agreement concerning the disposition or application of insurance proceeds in the event of a loss.”
"Where a mortgage or insurance policy provides for insurance proceeds to be paid to the mortgagee 'as its interest appears', the mortgagee is entitled to the insurance proceeds to the extent of the mortgage debt."
Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment.
Policy/rationale. Borrower essentially contended Lender was only entitled to the insurance proceeds remaining after the cost of her attorneys, which were instrumental in negotiating a settlement of the fire loss. The Court rejected Borrower’s theory because “the plain language of the Mortgage does not support [Borrower’s] interpretation of the phrase “insurance proceeds.” The Court noted that the mortgage:
did not expressly refer to a partial distribution of insurance proceeds or, at least where the proceeds do not exceed the amount of the [Borrower’s] indebtedness, to a distribution of a portion of the insurance proceeds to the Lender and a portion of the proceeds to the [Borrower]. Also, the Mortgage does not suggest the amount of insurance proceeds to which the Lender is entitled must be reduced by an amount equal to the costs or attorney fees incurred by the [Borrower] to secure the proceeds.
The Court also examined equitable claims asserted by Borrower. Please review the opinion for details of those theories. In the end, neither the language of the mortgage nor the law of equity required Lender to share the insurance proceeds with Borrower’s attorneys. Remember, the purpose of the insurance was to cover damage to Lender’s loan collateral (Borrower’s house). Assuming Borrower did not use the funds to rebuild the destroyed property, the money went to reduce Borrower’s debt. Make no mistake – this was a windfall to Lender. Borrower benefitted from the insurance proceeds. It’s just that Borrower had to pay for her lawyers.
- What Are A Lender’s Rights As A “Loss Payee” Under An Insurance Policy In Indiana?
- Potential Negligence Of An Indiana Receiver
I represent parties involved in disputes arising out of loans that are in default. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at email@example.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.