Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Judge Geroulo of Lackawanna County Addresses First Party Issues in Auto Accident Case

In the Lackawanna County case of Mehall v. Benedetto, No. 09-CIV-5849/No. 10-CIV-7224 (C.P. Lacka. Jan. 10, 2012, Geroulo, J.), Judge Vito Geroulo addressed a variety of issues in an automobile accident case in which it was alleged that the Plaintiff was the owner of a registered but uninsured motor vehicle.

By way of background, at the time of the subject accident, the injured party Plaintiff was operating a vehicle that was owned by his girlfriend. It was alleged that, at that time, the injured party Plaintiff also owned another vehicle that was registered but not insured.

The court in Mehall found that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the Plaintiff did indeed own a registered and uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident.

According to the Opinion, the parties agreed that, given the fact that the Plaintiff was the owner of a registered but uninsured vehicle, he was deemed to have chosen the limited alternative under 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1705(d).

Before the court was a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking a finding that 75 Pa.C.S. §1714 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law precluded the Plaintiff from recovering past, present, or future medical bills, medical liens, and medical expenses as well as past, present, or future wage loss or earnings impairment, as well as any and all first party benefit type damages. In so arguing, the defense relied upon the case of McClung v. Breneman, 700 A.2d 495 (Pa. Super. 1997).

The Plaintiff countered that, under the case of Swords v. Harleysville Insurance Co., 883 A.2d 562 (Pa. 2005), the Plaintiff was entitled to not only underinsured motorist benefits under an applicable policy, but also to medical, wage loss, and other economic damages that may be afforded under that policy.

Judge Geroulo found that the Swords case controlled his decision.  The ruled that, under Swords, the Plaintiff was indeed precluded from recovering first party medical benefits and wage loss benefits as the owner of an registered but uninsured motor vehicle and also that the Plaintiff would be deemed to be covered by the limited tort option.

However, Judge Geroulo ruled that the Plaintiff was not precluded from recovering UIM damages under the circumstances presented. As such, the court ruled that the Plaintiff was indeed eligible to recover uninsured and/or underinsured motorist benefits pursuant to another person’s automobile insurance policy, if the injured party Plaintiff qualified for such coverage under that policy.

Elsewhere in his opinion, the court also denied the Defendant owner’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the negligent entrustment claim. The court found that the Plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence that the Plaintiff Defendant owner knew that the Defendant driver had prior accidents, traffic citations, criminal offenses, past drug and alcohol use, and a problem with low blood sugar. As such, the court found that genuine issues of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment on the negligent entrustment issue.

I send thanks to Attorney M. Lee Albright of the Pisanchyn Law Firm in Scranton, PA for advising me of this decision.

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

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