Principle Of Subrogation in Insurance: Meaning, How It Works & Types

By Okbima 28 Mar 2024
principle of subrogation in insurance


The principle of subrogation in insurance plays a crucial role in the industry, influencing how claims are handled and resolved. Let’s find out the meaning of subrogation, how it operates in insurance, and the various types of subrogation that exist. Understanding this principle is essential for both insurers and policyholders.


What is Subrogation?

Subrogation is a legal concept where an insurer becomes entitled to the rights of the insured after compensating them for their loss. This means that the insurer can then pursue a claim against a third party who may be responsible for the loss or damage.

Subrogation is an important aspect of insurance law in India and is typically included in insurance policies to protect the insurer's interests. It allows the insurer to recover the amount it has paid out in compensation, thereby helping to keep insurance premiums lower for all policyholders.


Principle of Subrogation in Insurance

Subrogation is a fundamental principle in insurance law, including in India. It allows an insurer who has paid a claim under an insurance policy to step on behalf of the insured and pursue recovery from a third party who may be responsible for the loss or damage. This principle essentially prevents the insured from collecting twice for the same loss and allows the insurer to mitigate its losses by seeking reimbursement from the party at fault.

In India, the principle of subrogation is governed primarily by the provisions of the Insurance Act, of 1938, and the general principles of contract law. Section 140 of the Insurance Act specifically deals with the rights of an insurer in cases of subrogation. 

This section essentially empowers the insurer to pursue recovery from any third party responsible for the loss after compensating the insured. However, the insured cannot independently settle or compromise any claims against the third party without the insurer's consent.

Moreover, various court judgments and legal precedents further clarify and reinforce the principle of subrogation in India. Courts have consistently upheld the right of insurers to subrogate claims against negligent third parties to recover the amounts paid out under insurance policies.


When Does Subrogation Apply?

Subrogation acts in various insurance scenarios, including car insurance, property insurance, and health insurance.

  • Car Insurance: If another driver causes an accident and your car gets damaged, your insurer can fix it and then seek compensation from the at-fault driver's insurance.

  • Property Insurance: If a fire caused by a neighbor's negligence damages your house, the insurer can cover the repairs and then try to recover the cost from the neighbor.

  • Health Insurance: If you're injured due to someone else's fault and your health insurance pays for the medical bills, the insurer might pursue the responsible party for reimbursement.


How Does Subrogation Work?

Subrogation is a process by which an insurer, having paid out a claim to its insured, can then pursue recovery from a third party who may be responsible for the loss or damage. 

Here's how subrogation typically works:

  • Policy Coverage and Claim Payment: When an insured suffers a loss covered by their insurance policy, they file a claim with their insurer. Upon verifying the claim and determining that it falls within the policy coverage, the insurer makes a payment to the insured for the loss suffered.

  • Right of Subrogation: Once the insurer has compensated the insured for the covered loss, it gains the right of subrogation. This right enables the insurer to pursue recovery from any third party who may be liable for the loss.

  • Investigation and Evaluation: After paying the claim, the insurer investigates to determine the cause of the loss and identify any parties who may be at fault. This investigation may involve gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and assessing the extent of the damages.

  • Legal Action: If the insurer determines that a third party is responsible for the loss, it may initiate legal proceedings against that party to recover the amount paid out to the insured. Legal action could involve filing a lawsuit in civil court or pursuing alternative dispute methods such as arbitration or mediation.

  • Recovery and Settlement: If the insurer's legal action is successful, it may recover the amount paid to the insured along with any additional costs incurred during the subrogation process, such as legal fees. Alternatively, the insurer may negotiate a settlement with the responsible party outside of court.

  • Distribution of Recovered Amounts: Once the insurer recovers funds through subrogation, it distributes the recovered amounts by the terms of the insurance policy. This may involve reimbursing itself for the claim payment, reimbursing the insured for any deductibles or co-payments, and retaining any remaining funds.


Example of Subrogation in Insurance

An example of subrogation in insurance could involve a motor vehicle accident where the insured's car is damaged by the negligence of another driver.

Let’s understand with a Scenario:

  • Accident Occurs: Mr. Sharma, the insured, is driving his car when another driver runs a red light and collides with his vehicle. As a result of the accident, Mr. Sharma's car sustains significant damage.

  • Insurance Claim: Mr. Sharma files a claim with his insurance company, XYZ Insurance, to cover the cost of repairing his car. Since Mr. Sharma has comprehensive insurance coverage, XYZ Insurance assesses the damage and approves the claim for Rs. 1 lakh to repair the vehicle.

  • Subrogation Right: Having paid out the claim to Mr. Sharma, XYZ Insurance now has the right of subrogation. This means that XYZ Insurance can pursue recovery from the negligent driver who caused the accident, seeking reimbursement for the amount paid to Mr. Sharma.

  • Investigation: XYZ Insurance investigates the accident to collect the evidence and determine the liability of the other driver. The investigation reveals that the accident happened because Mr. Singh crossed the red light.

  • Legal Action: XYZ Insurance decided to pursue legal action against Mr. Singh to recover the Rs. 1 Lakh paid to Mr. Sharma for the car repairs. They file a lawsuit in civil court against Mr. Singh, alleging negligence and seeking compensation for the damages.

  • Settlement or Judgment: The case proceeds to court, and after presenting evidence and arguments, a judgment is rendered in favor of XYZ Insurance. Mr. Singh is ordered to pay Rs. 1 Lakh in damages to XYZ Insurance to reimburse the amount paid to Mr. Sharma.

  • Recovery and Distribution: XYZ Insurance successfully recovers the Rs. 1 Lakh from Mr. Singh through the legal process. The recovered amount is then distributed accordingly: XYZ Insurance reimburses itself for the claim payment made to Mr. Sharma, and any remaining funds are retained by the insurer.


What is a Waiver of Subrogation?

A waiver of subrogation is a contractual provision in an insurance policy whereby the insurer agrees to waive its right of subrogation against a specified party, typically the insured or another party involved in a contract or agreement. This means that even if the insurer pays a claim under the policy, it cannot seek recovery from the party specified in the waiver, even if that party is responsible for the loss or damage.

In India, waivers of subrogation are recognized and commonly used in various types of insurance policies, including property insurance, liability insurance, and construction contracts. These waivers are typically included as endorsements or clauses in the insurance policy or contract and are subject to negotiation between the parties involved.


Types of Subrogation in Insurance

In insurance, subrogation can take various forms, each with its legal basis and application. In India, as in many other jurisdictions, the types of subrogation commonly recognized include equitable subrogation, contractual subrogation, and statutory subrogation. 

  1. Equitable Subrogation: Equitable subrogation is based on principles of fairness and equity. It arises when one party, typically an insurer, pays a debt or claim that should have been paid by another party. As a result, the paying party is subrogated to the rights of the original creditor or claimant against the party primarily liable.

  2. Contractual Subrogation: Contractual subrogation arises from specific provisions included in insurance contracts or agreements between parties. Insurers and insureds can agree to contractual terms that define the rights and obligations related to subrogation. These terms typically specify the circumstances under which subrogation rights apply and any limitations or waivers of those rights.

  3. Statutory Subrogation: Statutory subrogation is based on laws enacted by the government that confer subrogation rights on certain parties by operation of law. These statutes may grant subrogation rights to insurers, government agencies, or other entities in specific situations, such as workers' compensation claims, medical reimbursements, or recovery of public funds.


Rights of an Insurer in Subrogation of Insurance

When it comes to subrogation in insurance, the insurer has certain legal rights to help them recover the funds they paid out for your claim. 

Some rights insurers hold during subrogation:

  • Right to Pursue Legal Action: The insurer has the legal right to sue the third-party responsible for the loss you incurred. This allows them to take the at-fault party to court to recover the amount paid on your claim.

  • Right to Recover Reimbursement: The insurer has the right to receive full reimbursement for the damages they paid out on your behalf. This includes the cost of repairs, medical bills, or any other covered expense.  In some cases, they might even be able to recover your deductible if it was paid during the claim process.

  • Right to Take Over Your Legal Rights: Upon paying your claim, most insurance policies grant the insurer subrogation rights. This means they can claim against the third party. They inherit your right to pursue compensation for the loss they covered.

  • Right to Investigate and Gather Evidence: The insurer has the right to investigate the accident or incident that caused your loss. They can collect evidence, such as police reports, witness statements, and repair estimates, to build a strong case against the at-fault party.

  • Right to Negotiate Settlements: The insurer might choose to negotiate a settlement with the third party's insurance company instead of going to court. This can be a faster and more cost-effective way to recover their funds.


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In conclusion, the principle of subrogation in insurance is an important concept that allows an insurer to act on behalf of the insured after paying a claim and pursue legal action against a third party that caused the loss. This principle ensures that the party responsible for the loss ultimately bears the financial responsibility.


Subrogation in car insurance is the process where the insurance company recovers costs from the at-fault party or their insurance company after compensating their policyholder for damages.

The purpose behind the act of subrogation is to allow an insurance company to recover costs from a third party who is deemed responsible for the loss or damages incurred by the insured party.

Subrogation in the health insurance sector is the process by which an insurance company seeks reimbursement from a third party for medical expenses it has paid on behalf of a policyholder.

Subrogation is important for both an insured and an insurance company because it allows the insurance company to recover costs from responsible third parties, ultimately helping to keep premiums lower for the insured.

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