Monday, November 20, 2017

Split in Authority on Post-Koken Bifurcation of Trial Issues

In the Blair County Court of Common Pleas case of Swan v. Moorefield, No. 2014 GN 2606 (C.P. Blair Co. Sept. 9, 2017 Kagarise, J.), the court denied a UIM carrier’s Motion to Sever and Stay Bad Faith Claims in a post-Koken matter.  

According to the Opinion, the Motion to Sever was filed pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 213(b).   The court noted that the determination of whether to sever cases was within the discretion of the trial court and that the court should make this determination based upon the particular facts and circumstances of the case before it.  

In his Opinion, Judge Wade pointed to a prior Blair County decision in favor of the severance of a UIM claim from the bad faith claim in the case of Raia v. Agency Ins.  Co. of Maryland (C.P. Blair Co. March 2, 2017 Doyle, P.J.).  

However, Judge Wade noted that there were several differences between the case before him and the facts in the Raia case.  

For example, Judge Wade noted that, in the Raia case, Judge Doyle had reasoned that separating the causes of action would decrease discovery disputes and allow both cases to proceed more smoothly.   In the Swan case, the motion was filed three (3) years after the Complaint was file and, as such, the court noted that many of the discovery disputes had already been raised and resolved.  Accordingly, the court felt that “granting severance now [in the Swan case] is akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”  

The court also noted that it was sensitive to the fact that severing could further drag out the resolution of the bad faith claims in this already three (3) year old case.  

The court was also influenced to deny the request for severance under the Plaintiff’s argument that a severance of the case would necessitate a second jury trial on the common law (as opposed to the statutory) bad faith claims raised by the Plaintiff.  

While the court denied the request for severance of the claim during the course of discovery, the court in Swan otherwise noted that it would consider a Motion for Bifurcation at a later time in the proceedings. 

In this regard, the Swan court pointed to the decision by the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas in the case of Madeja v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (C.P. Westmoreland Co. April 11, 2017) in which the court did not sever the causes of action but did bifurcate the trial proceedings.   The Swan court found that there was “significant merit to the approached taken in the Madeja case and felt that the Madeja court’s reasoning was appropriate in the instant matter.   However, as the issue of bifurcation was not currently before the Swan court, the court did not rule on that particular issue.  

As stated, the court in Swan ultimately denied the Defendant’s Motion to Sever and Stay the extra contractual claims.  Accordingly, there is a split of authority on this issue within Blair County which mirrors the split of authority on this issue across the state courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 


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