Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Superior Court Rules that UM Carrier Properly Denied Coverage for Late Notice

In the latest chapter of a Luzerne County uninsured motorist (UM) benefits case that has gone up and down the appellate ladder, The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled in Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co. No. 1575 MDA 2010 (Pa. Super. Feb. 6, 2012 Panella, Stevens, Bender, JJ.)(Opinion by Panella) that an insurer was prejudiced by the insured's failure to timely notify it that a phantom vehicle had been involved in an accident before filing a claim for uninsured motorist benefits.

Under the facts of this case there was a dispute as to whether a phantom vehicle was involved in the accident.  Also, the injured party claimant also asserted he believed the existence of the phantom vehicle had been documented in the police report but did not notice until several months later that there was no mention of the phantom vehicle in the police report.

According to the opinion, the Claimant did not put the carrier on notice of the UM claim until about eight (8) months after the accident.  The court noted that both the insurance contract language and Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law had provisions requiring that such notice be given within thirty (30) days of the accident.

Applying the facts of the case to the requirement that the carrier show prejudice before a UM claim can be denied for late notice, the Superior Court found that the carrier had established its burden of proof in this regard.

Judge Panella noted that "The entire justification for the requirement of a timely report of an unidentified vehicle to an insurer is to allow the insurer to investigate the accident to discover evidence," Panella said. "It is nearly axiomatic that the insurer cannot know what evidence it might discover in such an investigation."

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion in Vanderhoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co. may click here.

Source:  Article by Zack Needles in Feb. 14, 2012 Legal Intelligencer entitled "Insurer Prejudiced by Late Notice of Phantom Vehicle in Luzerne Co. Case.

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