It is rare that a topic like insurance subrogation comes up in popular culture, but in a recent Pawn Stars episode tangentially touched on the topic. In the episode titled “Shekel and Hyde” the pawn shop owners bought a Shekel of Tyre coin. Shekel coins were a common currency used in biblical times. Of course, considering their age they are relatively rare today. The owners purchased the coin and sent it out for appraisal. Shortly thereafter, they discovered that the coin had been reported stolen by the original owner. Apparently the man who sold it to them had purchased it in good faith from a previous seller. Tensions rose as the owners waited to hear back from the police whether they had to return the stolen coin back to the original owner, despite having purchased it in good faith. Luckily for the pawn shop owners the owner had been compensated by his insurance company so the title to the coin was ostensibly clear. Or was it? Let’s explore whether the Pawn Stars had a right to keep the coin in light of the actual mechanics of subrogation law.
In reality, the insurance company could step into the shoes of their insured through a subrogation action and sue for the return of the coin or its equivalent cash value. This episode presented a classic subrogation fact pattern and helped illustrate the common misunderstanding concerning insurance and subrogation law throughout society. Most people think that once an insurance company pays out a claim they have no further rights to pursue the tortfeasor or wrong-doer.