Friday, February 19, 2010

New Trial Court Decision Sustaining Venue Clause in UM Policy

A few days ago, the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas handed down a decision upholding a venue clause in a UM policy issued by Erie Insurance Exchange in the case of Kichline v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 2009 CIV 3052 (Lacka. Co. Feb. 16, 2010 Thomson, S.J).

Visiting Senior Judge Harold A. Thomson, Jr., my old boss from my law clerking days in Pike County, was faced with Erie Insurance's Preliminary Objections to a breach of contract and bad faith suit filed against Erie filed in Lackawanna County.

The case arose out of an accident that occurred in Northampton County during which the pedestrian Plaintiff was struck by an uninsured driver. At the time of the accident the Plaintiff was a resident relative insured under his parent's Erie policy. The parents lived in Northampton County.

Erie raised coverage issues and refused to participate in arbitration proceedings. The Plaintiff's Lackawanna County attorney filed the breach of contract and bad faith action in Lackawanna County. The Plaintiff's theory on venue was essentially that Erie did business in Lackawanna County and could therefore be sued in that county on the claims presented.

Judge Thomson rejected the Plaintiff's venue argument and sustained the carrier's Preliminary Objections. The court was influenced by the fact that the accident occurred in Northampton County, the insureds resided in Northampton County at the time of the accident, and the Erie policy language provided a forum selection clause that mandated that any dispute as to coverage was to be decided in the county where the named insured resided at the time of the accident.

It is noted that this result of this case is similar to that of O'Hara v. The First Liberty Ins. Corp. d/b/a Liberty Mut. Ins. Group, 2009 WL 3720649, 2009 Pa.Super. 214 (November 9, 2009, Judges Freedberg, Cleland and Kelly) in which the Superior Court upheld the UIM carrier's forum selection clause requiring UIM lawsuit to be brought in the county of the insured's legal domicile at the time of the accident. The O'Hara decision was not cited in Kichline v. Erie Ins.

Anyone desiring a copy of the Kichline v. Erie Ins. decision may contact me at

I thank Attorney Marianne J. Gilmartin of the Scranton office of Stevens & Lee for bringing this case to my attention.

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