Friday, July 9, 2010

Effort at Offensive Collateral Estoppel Rebuffed Again In UIM Case

In a recent June 21, 2010 Opinion and Order in the case of Metallo v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., No. 2009-Civil-1329 (Lacka. Co. June 21, 2010, Minora, J.), Judge Carmen D. Minora of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas denied a Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment against a UIM carrier asserting that the carrier could not contest liability in the UIM claim because liability had been admitted by the Defendant/driver in the separate third party negligence action by virtue of the absent tortfeasor Defendant’s failure to answer Requests for Admissions.

This matter involved two separate lawsuits arising out of an incident during which the Plaintiff, who was on a bicycle, was struck by a motor vehicle being driven by the tortfeasor Defendant. The Plaintiff filed a separate lawsuit against the Defendant/driver who, according to the police report, was an illegal immigrant with a Mexico driver’s license. Also filed was a separate UIM lawsuit against the UIM carrier, USAA Casualty Insurance Company.

During the course of the third party matter, the Defendant driver was served with Requests for Admissions on the liability issues and failed to respond. As such, those Admissions were deemed admitted.

After the third party claim was concluded, the Plaintiff proceeded with the UIM claim and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that USAA could not contest liability because that issue had already been admitted by the Defendant-driver in the separate third party action.

In denying the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Minora emphasized that, under Pa. R.C.P. 4014 pertaining to Requests for Admissions, it is provided that such requests and admissions are intended to apply only for “purposes of the pending action only.” The rule also provides that such admissions by a party are not to be considered admissions by the party “for any other purpose nor may [they] be used against the party in any proceedings.”

Judge Minora initially noted that, under Pennsylvania law, conclusions of law, as opposed to admissions of fact, are not within the permissible legal scope of a Request for Admission. See Christian v. Pennsylvania Financial Responsibility Assigned Claim Plan, 686 A.2d 1 (Pa. Super. 1986) re-argument denied, appeal denied, 699 A.2d 733 (Pa. 1996); Brindley v. Woodward Village Restaurant, Inc., 652 A.2d 865 (Pa. 1995).

In his Opinion, Judge Minora additionally noted that the deposition testimony of other witnesses in the claim created genuine issues of material fact with regard to the liability issues.

As such, the Motion for Summary Judgment was denied.

I thank defense attorney, Robert Smith, Esquire of the Moosic office of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin for forwarding this case to my attention.

Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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