Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: UM Carrier Must Show Prejudice to Deny for Late Notice of Claim

On July 6, 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 2010 W.L. 2653247 (Pa. 2010, Baer, J.), in which it considered the issue of “Whether an insurance carrier should be required to prove prejudice relative to the late reporting to the carrier of an accident involving an unidentified vehicle when such accident was timely reported to law enforcement officials?”

In this uninsured motorist case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an insurance company is indeed required to prove prejudice relative to the late reporting to the carrier even where the accident involving an unidentified vehicle was timely reported to law enforcement officials.

The majority opinion by Justice Baer, which was joined by Chief Justice Castille, Justice Todd and Justice McCaffery, noted that the Court’s decision was controlled by the case of Brakemen v. Potomac, Ins. Co., 371 A.2d 193 (Pa. 1977) in which the Court held that, in order to deny uninsured motorist benefits, a carrier must establish prejudice resulting from the insured’s failure to provide notice.

The Supreme Court chose not to follow its more recent opinion in the case of State Farm Ins. Co. v. Foster, 889 A.2d 78 (Pa. 2005), which centered around the issue of the requirement that an accident in this context be reported to law enforcement officials within thirty days of the accident.

In Vanderhoff, the subject accident was allegedly reported to law enforcement officials within thirty days of the accident as required. However, the insurance company did not receive notice of the accident until about eight (8) months after the accident. The Supreme Court ruled that, since the accident was reported to law enforcement officials within the thirty day requirement, the case would be remanded back to the trial court to determine whether or not the insurance company can establish prejudice from its later receipt of notice.

Justice Eakin, joined by Justice Saylor, dissented under the argument that the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (75 Pa. C.S.A. §1702) does not contain a prejudice requirement in this context.

The prevailing Plaintiff's attorney in Vanderhoff was Attorney Brian Corcoran, a solo practitioner out of Kingston, PA.


A copy of the Vanderhoff majority opinion by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can be viewed at this link:
http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-43-2008mo.pdf.


I thank Attorney Paul Oven of the Moosic office of Dougherty, Leventhal & Price for bringing this case to my attention.

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