Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vanderhoff v. Harleysville To Be Revisited by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Tort Talkers may recall my previous reportings on the case of Vanderoff v. Harleysville Insurance Company where the central issue was what constituted “actual prejudice” in the context of the prejudice to an uninsured motorist carrier resulting from a Claimant’s late reporting of a phantom vehicle having been involved in the subject accident.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously addressed this issue and found that a carrier could not deny uninsured motorist benefits unless it established prejudice from an insurer’s failure to report a “phantom vehicle.” See Vanderoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 997 A.2d 328 (Pa. 2010). The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with that decision.

In Vanderoff, the subject accident was allegedly reported to law enforcement officials within thirty(30) days of the accident as required by the policy language. However, the insurance company itself allegedly did not receive notice of the accident until about eight (8) months after the accident.

In its previous ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that, since the accident was reported to law enforcement officials within thirty (30) day requirement, the case will be remanded back to the trial court to determine whether or not the insurance company could establish prejudice from its later receipt of notice.

On remand, the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas ruled, after hearing on the matter, that the delay in notifying the carrier, in and of itself, did not amount to prejudice sufficient to support the carrier’s denial of coverage. As such, the trial court judge held on remand that the Plaintiff’s UM claim was not barred by the untimely notice. Vanderoff v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 5611 of 2003 (Luz. Co. 2010, Wetzel, J.).

Thereafter, the case went back up the appellate ladder to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which reversed the trial court’s decision in this regard and found that the insurance company was indeed prejudice by the insured’s failure to timely notify the carrier that a phantom vehicle had been involved in the accident before filing the claim for uninsured motorist benefits.

I have now been advised that this issue is again proceeding back up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In an Order dated November 14, 2012, Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Petition for Allowance for Appeal and defined the issues in that Order as involving the following:

(1) What constitutes “actual prejudice” to relieve and insurance company of its obligation to pay insurance benefits to an insured?

(2) Should “actual prejudice” involve proof by an insurance carrier that it suffered a real material impairment of its ability to investigation and defend an uninsured claim?

(3) What constitutes a reasonable basis for a trial court finding that prejudice exists in a late report of a phantom vehicle?

A copy of the Supreme Court’s Order may be viewed HERE.

I send thanks for the Plaintiff’s attorney in this matter, Brian Corcoran, Esquire of Kingston, Pennsylvania for bringing this development to my attention.

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