Monday, July 13, 2015

Another UIM Case Defeated By Collateral Estoppel Doctrine

Pitfall

In a recent Post-Koken collateral estoppel decision of note, Judge David Williamson of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas ruled in the case of DeHoyos v. GEICO, No. 10532-CV-2013 (C.P. Monroe Co. April 20, 2015 Willamson, J.) that a Plaintiff was barred from pursuing a UIM claim where the award the Plaintiff received from the third party tortfeasor after an application of a high/low agreement to the jury's verdict was less than the tortfeasor's liability limits.

In this matter, the tortfeasor's liability limits were $500,000.  The jury awarded $581,000 at trial but that verdict was molded downward to $450,000 pursuant to the high/low agreement entered into by the parties prior to the entry of the verdict.

Applying the language of the GEICO policy, as well as Pennsylvania law, the court noted that there could be no claim for UIM coverage when the amount of damages the plaintiff was legally entitled to recover from the tortfeasor did not exceed the available liability policy limits covering the tortfeasor.

Judge David J. Williamson
Monroe County
The court rejected the argument by the Plaintiff that the amount of the jury's original verdict that was entered  constituted the actual award to be considered with respect to the collateral estoppel issue.   Judge Williamson instead viewed the high/low agreement as a settlement agreement that placed limits of a maximum and a minimum for potential awards by the jury.  Accordingly, the high/low agreement was found to be a valid and enforceable contract that capped the plaintiff's recovery at a number below the available liability limits.  Thus, the actual award for collateral estoppel analysis in this matter was the high parameter of the high/low agreement.

Since the high parameter was less than the tortfeasor's liability limits, the court found no legal basis for the plaintiff to pursue the companion UIM claim.  As such, the carrier's motion for partial summary judgment was granted.


Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision, may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

To review other Tort Talk blog posts on similar collateral estoppel issues, click HERE.




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