Ro v. Factory Mutual Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Trustees of Dartmouth CollegeAnnotate this Case
Defendant Factory Mutual Insurance Company (Factory Mutual) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs' Daniel Ro and Sebastian Lim motion. Plaintiffs sought a declaration they were implied co-insureds under a fire insurance policy issued by Factory Mutual to the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Plaintiffs were students in 2016 living in campus dormitories. Prior to being assigned a dormitory room, each plaintiff was required to sign a form acknowledging receipt and understanding of the college’s student handbook, which included prohibitions on: (1) possessing charcoal grills in student housing; (2) lighting and burning of any item with an open flame in residence halls; and (3) placing items on, and the use of, “the roof, portico, fire escape, or any other architectural feature not designed for recreational or functional use, except in cases of emergency.” Plaintiffs set up a charcoal grill on a platform outside a fourth floor window in Lim’s dormitory. The grill started a fire on the platform, which then spread to the roof. Firefighters used a substantial quantity of water to extinguish the fire, and all four floors of the dormitory sustained water damage. Factory Mutual, which insured the building, paid the Trustees $4,544,313.55 and then brought a subrogation claim against plaintiffs to recover that amount. The trial court concluded that Factory Mutual could not maintain its counterclaims against either plaintiff, specifically noting, “To the extent Mr. Lim’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is insurable, so is Mr. Ro’s. Mr. Ro’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is analogous to that of a tenant who rents one unit in a residential complex but causes fire damage to another unit in the complex.” In affirming the superior court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even if plaintiffs lacked a possessory interest in their dormitories, and even if their relationship with the college was not strictly that of landlord and tenant, they had a contractual relationship with the college in which they paid for the right, subject to the noted limitations, among others, to occupy a college dormitory for a certain period of time. "This contractual relationship gave rise to the reasonable expectation that Dartmouth College carried fire insurance on its dormitories, that the plaintiffs’ room and board fees contributed, in some way, to the premium for that insurance, and, therefore, that the insurance inured to their benefit."