Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Appeal to Pennsylvania Supreme Court Filed in Recent Monumental UIM Decision of Pusl v. Means

I recently reported on the monumental decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the case of Pusl v. Means, 2009 WL 3065089 (Pa.Super. September 23, 2009, Judges Bowes, Freeburg, and Popovich).

The prevailing was defense counsel in the case, Craig E. Murphey from the Erie law firm of MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton. Attorneys Thomas A. McDonnell and Joseph A. Hudock of the Pittsburgh law firm of Summers McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Skeel authored an amicus curiae brief for the defense at the request of the Pennsylvania Defense Institute.

Attorney Murphey has advised me that the Plaintiff in Pusl has filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Supreme Court on the issues presented. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case.

In Pusl v. Means, the Plaintiff was injured in a car accident and sued the tortfeasor. Before trial, the Plaintiff settled her UIM claim with her own insurer, State Farm, for its $75,000 policy limits. At the later trial against the tortfeasor, the Plaintiff secured a verdict of $100,000.

At the Defendant's request after the verdict in the lawsuit matter, the trial court molded the verdict down to reflect Pusl's recovery of UIM benefits for the same accident. The verdict was thereby reduced to $25,000.

In affirming the trial court's decision on appeal, the Superior Court reasoned that the lower court's decision was supported by 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1722 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law which recognizes the longstanding public policy against allowing Plaintiff's any double recoveries for the same loss.

The Superior Court rejected the plaintiff's claim that allowing the molding down of the verdict, or a set-off for previously received UIM benefits, was a violation of the collateral source rule.

Finally, the Court in Pusl also found that the decision does not offend the notion that a tortfeasor should have to pay for all losses he has caused because the UIM carrier could, if it wished, preserve its subrogation claim against that tortfeasor. In that regard, the defendant would still be responsible for the entire verdict while the Plaintiff was still precluded from recovering more than the amount the jury determines is necessary to compensate the plaintiff.

This decision has a great impact on the handling of automobile insurance litigation matters in Pennsylvania, and it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court addresses the issue, assuming they agree to hear this appeal.

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