In what appears to be the first Post-Koken case out of Centre County on the consolidation vs. severance issue, Judge Pamela A. Ruest of the Centre County Court of Common Please ruled in favor of the consolidation of such claims in Fennessey v. Sweeney and State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., No. 2012-2865 (Centre Co. Dec. 11, 2012).
In this case, the Plaintiff filed a third party and UIM claim for her alleged personal injuries from a July 29, 2010 motor vehicle accident. State Farm was the insurance company for both the third party tortfeasor and the plaintiff for the UIM claim.
Both Defendants filed preliminary Objections to the Complaint along with Motions to Sever.
Judge Ruest overruled the joinder Preliminary Objections based upon a primary finding that the claims were properly joined under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2229(b) as the claims all arose out of the same transaction or occurrence, i.e., the car accident of July 29, 2010.
The court also denied the motion to sever and found that Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 411, pertaining to the admissibility of insurance matters in civil litigation claims, did not warrant severance. The court noted that "[h]ere, evidence of Defendants' insurance coverage would be admissible to help determine State Farm's liability as the provider of underinsured motorist coverage........The Court also agrees with Plaintiffs that it would be inefficient and unfair to Plaintiffs to require two trials that would be nearly identical in many respects." Judge Ruest also noted that remedial measures could be taken if the Plaintiff were to attempt to introduce insurance issues for an improper purpose.
In its decision, the Fennessey court also overruled Preliminary Objections with regards to a loss of consortium claim under a limited tort argument. The court held that the ability to recover for a "serious injury" is tied to the person actually injured and that the person claiming loss of consortium does not need to have sustained an independent "serious injury" in order to recover on the derivative loss of consortium claim.
Anyone desiring a copy of this case may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I send thanks to Attorney Amy Kubisiak out of Pittsburgh for providing me with a copy of this decision.