Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Superior Court Addresses Parameters of Definition of "Insured"

In its recent decision in the case of Barnes v. Keller, 2012 Pa. Super. 259, No. 2459 EDA 2011 (Pa. Super. Nov. 27, 2012 Shogan, Lazarus, and Blatt, J.J.) ( Opinion by Shogan, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of a Defendant insurance company in a case where the issue was, in part, whether or not the definition of an insured, an uninsured motor vehicle, and the question of who was entitled to recover uninsured motorist benefits was ambiguous under the policy language at issue.  

By way of background, the Plaintiff was employed as a field service technician for a company called McGovern, Inc.   McGovern, Inc. maintained a policy of insurance with Westfield Insurance Company and the Plaintiff alleged that he was an insured under that policy.

On the date of the subject accident, the Plaintiff’s employer had assigned him to go to a local store to work to unblock a clogged pipe.   While at the store working for his employer, the Plaintiff was holding on to a hose that was attached to a jetter machine that was attached to a trailer that was attached to a vehicle tow mount on the employer’s vehicle when the Plaintiff was hit by a car driven by an unidentified driver who was backing out of a parking spot.  

According to the Opinion, there was a number of factual disputes over whether the injured party was “vehicle oriented” or “occupying” a vehicle as required by the policy terms.   Applying the facts to its sterile analysis of the applicable law, the Superior Court concluded that a trailed vehicle can be a motor vehicle pursuant to Pennsylvania law as in the example of the tractor trailer analysis.  

The Superior Court also applied the Utica Mutual Insurance Company v. Contrisciane, 473 A.2d 1005 (Pa. 1984) test as to whether or not an injured party was “occupying” a vehicle and found that the Plaintiff had satisfied all of the elements of that test.  

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that, reviewing the case in a light most favorable to the injured party, the trial court incorrectly granted summary judgment in favor of the defense.   Because there were genuine issues of fact on the questions presented, the Superior Court reversed the trial court Order of summary judgment in favor of the defense.  

 Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may click this LINK.


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