Sunday, March 31, 2013

Third Circuit Chooses Substance Over Form In UIM Rejection Case

Tort Talkers may recall previous posts here, and even an article, outlining the numerous Pennsylvania cases holding that UM/UIM rejection forms are required to follow the mandates of the applicable statute (75 Pa.C.S.A. Section 1731) to the letter in order to be upheld as valid.  Here is a LINK to my article on this topic entitled "Rejecting the Rejection."

The courts that have ruled on this issue to date have strictly applied the statute to the point that the addition or deletion of even one word to the mandated form has been deemed to render the rejection form invalid. Among the courts that have followed the state court decisions in ruling in this strict manner was the Federal Eastern District Court in the case of Robinson v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America. 

That decision however was vacated and reversed late last week by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a non-precedential Opinion issued in in Robinson v. Travelers Indemnity Company of America, No. 12-1888 (3rd Cir. March 21, 2013)(Rendell, Ambro, Vanaskie, J.J.)(Opinion by Rendell, J.)(marked non-precedential).

In this case, the underinsured motorist waiver form at issue contained the additional word of "motorist" in the phrase "underinsured coverage."  The word "motorist" is not found in the form mandated by the statutory language. 

The Claimant asserted that the inclusion of the additional word invalidated the form under Section 1731 of the MVFRL because it was not in specific compliance with the MVFRL.  As noted above, this argument was accepted as valid by the Eastern Federal District Court which invalidated the rejection form and ruled that the Claimant was entitled to UIM coverage.

In a non-precedential Opinion, the The Third Circuit reversed and ruled that the addition of the word "motorists" to the form served to clarify the wording of the form.  The Third Circuit stated that it did not desire to "elevate form over substance in a hyperliteral interpretation" of the law. 

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney Scott Cooper of the Harrisburg law firm of Schmidt Kramer, and Attorney Paul Oven of the Moosic, PA law firm of Dougherty, Leventhal & Price for bringing this decision to my attention.

1 comment:

  1. I'm ambivalent about the UIM waiver issue: on the one hand, it sounds silly to invalid a rejection for non-substantive differences; on the other hand, it really isn't that hard to just do the form correctly, insurance companies are just too darn sloppy.

    That said, PA law is pretty clear: any deviation renders it invalid. The Third Circuit is again ignoring what PA law actually is so that it can apply what it thinks PA law should be...

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