In Canada, the right of subrogation is a product of the common law, although it may be modified by statute or contract. Unlike in the United States, Canadian common law provides that an insurer may sue only in the name of the insured in relation to a subrogated claim .That rationale has its roots in the need to provide a process by which the insurer would be able to exercise its subrogated rights. Historically, insureds were required to take all steps within their power to reduce a loss for which they had received indemnity, including exercising legal remedies against third parties. Since those remedies were personal to the insured, however, they could only be exercised in the name of the insured as a matter of procedural law. The common law did not provide a method whereby a person could be compelled to commence an action against another; therefore insurers had to apply to the Chancery Court to compel an insured to allow his or her name to be used for legal proceedings against third persons in order to reduce the loss.
The tenet still holds true today, and is illustrated by an exception to the rule discussed in the Ontario Court of Appeal case of Freudmann-Cohen v. Tran, 2004 CanLII 34765 (Ont. C.A.) . In Freudmann-Cohen, the plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident when her car was struck by another vehicle. Since the driver of the offending vehicle was underinsured, the plaintiff asserted a claim under her own automobile insurer for underinsured motorist coverage. Her insurer, Zurich, subsequently learned that the defendant had been delivering pizza for Pizza Nova franchise at the time of the accident and that the franchisee had insurance coverage. It then issued a third party claim in its own name against the defendant pursuant to Rule 29.01 of Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that: "A defendant may commence a third party claim against any person who is not a party to the action and who…should be bound by the determination of an issue arising between the plaintiff and the defendant." Zurich argued that Rule 29.01 constitutes a procedural scheme, with the force of regulation, which overrides the normal subrogation principle requiring an insurer claiming a subrogated right to sue in the name of the insured in circumstances such as these.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed, and held that the subrogation principle obliging the insurer to sue in the name of the insured is a procedural requirement itself, as opposed to a substantive obligation. While subrogation is a matter of substance rather than form, this aspect of subrogation is a matter of the procedure to be followed in the exercise of the substantive right of subrogation. The court noted however that:
"[t]he fact that Zurich has resorted to the third party procedure to put its subrogated claim on behalf of the plaintiffs in play in the action does not mean that Zurich is asserting the plaintiffs’ claim against Pizza Nova in Zurich’s own name. As I have earlier pointed out, rule 29.01 merely provides a mechanism whereby the defendant Zurich may ensure that an issue regarding which the third party should be bound is determined in the action; it is not necessary that that issue arise out of a claim whereby the defendant says the third party is or may be liable to the defendant. In my view, Zurich is entitled to resort to the third party rule in its own name in these circumstances."
As this case demonstrates, the right of an insurer to bring a subrogated action is derivative; that is, it merely a right to make such claim for damages as the insured himself could have made. For this reason, the general rule still holds in Canada that a subrogated action must be brought in the insured’s name, rather than that of the insurer.