Sunday, November 13, 2011

Superior Court Again Rules No UIM Benefits Where Worker's Comp Applies

Judge Terrence Nealon's decision in the case of Petrochko v. Nationwide, No. 07 CV 7113 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Aug. 27, 2010, Nealon, J.), has been affirmed by the Superior Court.

In Petrochko, Judge Nealon ruled in favor of the UIM carrier with a finding of no coverage for UIM benefits under a personal automobile insurance policy where the injured party had been injured on the job and received worker's compensation benefits.  The decision was affirmed in a non-precedential decision issued by the Pennsylvania Superior Court under docket number 1605 MDA 2010 (Pa. Super. Nov. 10, 2011 Panella, Lazarus, and Ott, JJ.).

The Tort Talk blog post on Judge Nealon's decision can be read here.

The Superior Court's decision in Petrochko basically adopted and cited Judge Nealon's well-reasoned trial court Opinion.  The appellate court's opinion is non-precedential and does not offer up any rationale by the Superior Court and so is probably not one that would be of any benefit to readers--but if you wish to receive a copy please let me know at dancummins@comcast.net.

Note that the same issue exact was addressed in a published Opinion by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the case of Erie Ins. Exch. v. Conley, ___ A.3d ___,  2011 WL 3129388 (Pa. Super. 2011 Panella, Shogan, and Colville, JJ.), in which the Superior Court affirmed a decision by Judge Hertzberg of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.  That Opinion can be read here.

The basic rationale of all of these decisions the respective Opinions was aptly set forth by Judge Nealon in Petrochko, as follows:

"Pennsylvania law and the insurance policy at issue limit UIM coverage to insureds who “are legally entitled to recover damages” from the underinsured tortfeasor. Since the negligent motorist in this case is immune from negligence liability to the insured employee due to the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee is not entitled to recover compensatory damages from the underinsured tortfeasor. As such, the employee is ineligible to collect UIM benefits under 75 Pa. C.S. §1731(c) and the applicable policy."

Both Judge Nealon and Judge Hertzberg also noted in their respective decisions that, where the tortfeasor is a third party not associated with the injured party's employment, UM/UIM benefits may be pursued under appropriate circumstances.

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