Thursday, July 12, 2018

Notable But Non-Precedential Superior Court Post-Koken Decision Noted (From Back in 2016)

I recently came across a notable, non-precedential, post-Koken decision from back in 2016 entitled Zellat v. McCulloch, No. 1610 W.D. 2014, 2016 W.L. 312486 (Pa. Super. Jan. 26, 2016) (Bowes, Olson, and Stabile, J.J.) (Mem. Op. by Bowes, J.) (Non-precedential).   

Unfortunately, this post-Koken decision on notable issues was not published by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and was, instead, listed as a non-precedential decision.  

The hope remains that the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will publish any and all decisions related to post-Koken issues as any guidance on these still novel and developing issues would be of great help to both the bench and the bar in litigating these types of cases.

The case of Zellat involved a post-Koken lawsuit in which the Plaintiff sued both the third party tortfeasor on a negligence claim and her own underinsured motorist carrier on a UIM claim. 

At the trial level, the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas allowed the case to proceed in front of a jury without the UIM insurance company Defendant being mentioned.  Nor was the type of insurance involved mentioned.  

At trial, the jury found that the tortfeasor’s negligence was not the factual cause of any harm. The Plaintiff appealed.  

Among the many arguments listed on appeal by the Plaintiff was that she was denied due process because the UIM carrier was not mentioned or identified at trial.   In this regard, the Plaintiff relied upon the prior decision of Stepanovich v. State Farm, 78 A.3d 1147 (Pa. Super. 2013).  

Similar to its previous decision in the Stepanovich case, the Superior Court held in Zellat that it was not per se reversible error not to identify the insurance company when the insurance company Defendant is in a joint trial with the third party tortfeasor.  

The court in Zellat found this Stepanovich decision to be on point on the issue whether a Plaintiff is able to establish prejudice when the insurance company is not identified or mentioned.   The court in Zellat stated that, similar to as to the Stepanovich decision, prejudice was not established by the failure to identify the UIM carrier at trial.  

As such, the Zellat court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in not identifying the UIM carrier during the joint trial with the tortfeasor.  

In this appeal, the Plaintiff also presented a secondary contention that she was unfairly “tagged-teamed” by the participation of two (2) defense lawyers, one of whom represented the tortfeasor and the other who defended the case for the UIM carrier.   

This argument was rejected by the Superior Court in Zellat given that the Plaintiff did not request a new trial as part of her appeal process with respect to the participation of both defense counsel at trial. As such, this argument was rejected.  

Anyone wishing to read this case, may click this LINK.

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