Tuesday, August 31, 2010

UM/UIM Benefits Precluded Where Injured Party Injured On the Job by Employer or Co-Worker

In Erie Ins. Exchange v. Conley, No. GD 09-21471 (Alleg. Co. Aug. 27, 2010, Hertzberg, J.), Judge Alan Hertzberg of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas recently addressed the issue of the permissibility of filing a lawsuit for UIM benefits when the tortfeasor is the Plaintiff’s employer and worker’s compensation benefits were paid to the injured party.

In this matter, the injured party was injured while in the scope and course of his employment. The injured party was standing on the ground loading tools into the rear of a dump truck that was being operated by his employer. The employer allegedly negligently moved the vehicle, striking the injured party and causing personal injuries.

The injured party in this matter acknowledged that the incident was only between him and his employer and with no outside third party being involved.

As a result of being injured while in the scope of his employment, the injured was awarded worker’s compensation benefits. The injured party did not sue his employer as the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act prohibited him from doing so.

Instead, the injured party made a claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits contained under his own personal automobile insurance policy issued by Erie Insurance Exchange.

Erie denied the claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits and filed this declaratory judgment action. The injured party filed a counterclaim for the uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits. Erie filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Judge Hertzberg granted Erie’s Motion and found that Erie had no obligation to provide Connolly with uninsured or underinsured motorists benefits.

The injured party filed an appeal to the Superior Court and Judge Hertzberg wrote this Rule 1925 Opinion explaining his position to the Superior Court.

After reviewing the applicable case law, Judge Hertzberg concluded that, where an injured party is injured by his employer or a co-employee, the exclusivity provision of the worker’s compensation law limited the injured party’s recovery to the worker’s compensation benefits and precluded any uninsured or underinsured motorist claims.

Judge Hertzberg also rejected the injured party’s argument that the denial of uninsured or underinsurance motor benefits were contrary to public policy. Rather, the judge noted that the public policy behind the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law and the Worker’s Compensation Act actually indicates a public policy against the injured party receiving uninsured or underinsurance benefits under the facts presented.

The judge did note that, in situations where the injured party is injured by a third party outside of the employment situation, an uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits claim may be pursued in appropriate circumstances.

I thank Judge Alan Hertzberg for forwarding this decision to my attention for publication.

Anyone desiring a copy of Erie Ins. Exchange v. Conley may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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