Thursday, October 17, 2013

Judge Williamson of Monroe County Rules on Applicable Standard of Review of Award From UM Arbitration

In the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas case of Campbell v. SafeCo Ins. Co. of Ill., PICS Case No. 13-2525 (C.P. Monroe Co. July 10, 2013 Williamson, J.) Judge David J. Williamson denied a Plaintiff’s Petition to Set Aside an Arbitration Award in a motor vehicle accident case.  

This matter arose out of a claim for uninsured (UM) motorist benefits after the Plaintiff was allegedly injured when an unknown driver struck the Plaintiff while the Plaintiff was walking through a parking lot.  

The Plaintiff and the UM carrier agreed to refer to the matter to an attorney for a private arbitration.  No formal arbitration agreement was ever executed between the parties.

After the arbitrator granted the Defendant UM carrier's motion to dismiss, the Plaintiff filed a Petition to Vacate the Arbitrator’s Decision as contrary to law.  

Judge David J. Williamson
Judge Williamson concluded that, in the absence of a formal arbitration agreement, the case should be considered as if the parties submitted the matter to common law arbitration under 42 Pa. C.S.A. §7341.  

The court noted that, under that statute, an arbitrator’s decision could only be set aside if there was “clear, precise, and convincing evidence" that the parties were denied a hearing or that there was fraud, misconduct, corruption, or some other irregularity which caused the rendering of an unjust, inequitable award.  

As the Plaintiff made no allegations consistent with the wording of the statute, the court denied the Plaintiff’s Petition and confirmed the arbitration award.  

In its ruling, the court rejected the Plaintiff’s reliance upon Tannembaum v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 919 A.2d 267 (Pa. Super. 2007) in support of an argument that the court could set aside the arbitrator’s award based upon an error of law or abuse of discretion.   Judge Williamson noted that the Tannembaum case was distinguishable in that the ruling in that case only applied to arbitration awards arising out of contracts specifically calling for arbitration under the Pennsylvania Arbitration Act. 

Given the number of Post-Koken cases proceeding to private arbitrations by agreement of the parties, this decision may come in handy in determining the applicable standard of review on any motion to confirm, vacate, or modify the arbitrator's award in the absence of any agreement between the parties in that regard.

Attorney Gerard J. Geiger of the Stroudsburg, PA law firm of Newman, Williams, Mishkin, Corveleyn, Wolfe & Fareri was kind enough to send me a copy of the Campbell v. Safeco decision and I thank him for that.  Anyone wishing to review the decision may click this LINK.
Source:  Pennsylvania Law Weekly “Digest of Recent Opinions (October 1, 2013).  

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