Sunday, December 11, 2011

Breach of Contract/Bad Faith Auto Claim Dismissed by Federal Court

In a recent decision by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Caserta v. GEICO, No. 11-3537 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2011 McLaughlin, J.), the court dismissed the Claimant’s breach of contract and bad faith claim following the carrier’s denial of her claim arising out of a hit-and-run accident involving the Plaintiff and her boyfriend.

More specifically, on the night of the accident, the Plaintiff and her boyfriend were walking along the shoulder of a road when an unidentified vehicle struck them both and fled the scene. The boyfriend sustained fatal injuries as a result of the accident and the Plaintiff-girlfriend sustained minor physical injuries and emotional distress.

The Plaintiff-girlfriend presented an uninsured motorist claim to GECIO, her own carrier. GEICO denied coverage on the grounds that the claim presented was not covered under the policy.
Thereafter, the Plaintiff-girlfriend commenced this lawsuit. This issue came before the Court on a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by Defendant GEICO asserting that the Plaintiff was not covered under the policy issued to the girlfriend’s boyfriend’s mother.

The Plaintiff contended that she was entitled to benefits under the boyfriend’s mother’s policy with GEICO under the definition of insured which was defined as “any person who is entitled to recover damages because of bodily injuries sustained by an insured….” The Plaintiff girlfriend contended that she was entitled to recover for physical injuries and emotional distress suffered because of the bodily injuries sustained by her boyfriend, who was an insured under the policy.

The court disagreed and found that the language of the policy clearly provided the Plaintiff could only recover for damages suffered because of bodily injury sustained by the insured. The court found that the Plaintiff did not suffer damages because of the injuries sustained by her boyfriend. The girlfriend was found to have sustained harm at the same time as her boyfriend but her injuries were found not to be causally related to her boyfriend’s injuries.

The court also rejected the Plaintiff-girlfriend’s claim under the theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress on a bystander theory. The court found that, under Pennsylvania law, the close relationship between the parties require to support this bystander theory has not been extended to include boyfriends and girlfriends.

As such, based upon the case presented, the court granted the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by the insurance carrier.

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