Thursday, December 6, 2018

TRENDING: Judge Legg of Susquehanna County Rules Extraneous Insurance Information Inadmissible in a Post-Koken Trial

As recently promised, here is the Tort Talk blog post on the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas decision in the Phillips case on the admission of evidence of insurance issues in a Post-Koken matter.

In the case of Phillips v. National General Assurance Company, No. 2016-959 (C.P. Susq. Co. Nov. 16, 2018 Legg, P.J.), President Judge Jason J. Legg of the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas granted a UIM carrier’s Motion In Limine to exclude extraneous evidence relating to insurance.  

In this detailed Order, the court additionally directed the parties to prepare Proposed Jury Instructions explaining the nature of the litigation to the jury that avoids referencing the extent of the coverage limits.   In this regard, the judge cited with the signal “c.f.” (which is a "compare" signal) Judge Terrence R. Nealon’s decision in the case of Kujawski v. Fogmeg, 2015 WL 1726534 (C.P. Lacka. Co. 2015) (providing a jury instructions explaining the nature of UIM coverage and the insurance company’s potential liability).  

In rendering his decision, President Judge Legg, noting that there was no Pennsylvania state appellate court decisions on the issue of admissibility of insurance evidence at Post-Koken trials. 

The Judge pointed to recent Pennsylvania federal court decisions and, after a review of those cases, found that “there is very little, if any, probative value to the extraneous insurance contract evidence” in the Phillips case before him where there was no dispute regarding the existence of an insurance contract between the parties or the obligation of the carrier to provide UIM benefits, both of which issues had been conceded by the carrier.  

Accordingly, Judge Legg agreed with the reasoning that the extent of the coverage limits has no probative value as to the damages suffered by the Plaintiffs and the prejudice to the Defendant will be substantial as [such evidence would] provide the jury with an “anchor number” that may unduly influence the damage award.   In this regard, the court cited, among other decisions, the following:

Lucca v. GEICO Insurance Company, 2016 WL 3632717 (E.D. Pa. 2016).  The Order in Lucca can be viewed at this LINK and the Opinion at this LINK.
Schmerling v. LM General Insurance Company, Inc., 2018 WL 5848981 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 8, 2018).  The Order in Schmerling can be viewed HERE and the Opinion at this LINK.
Ridolfi v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 2017 WL 3198062 (M.D. Pa. 2017 Mag. J.) (Excluding evidence of premium payments in breach of contract action between insured and insurer).  The Opinion by the Federal Magistrate Judge can be viewed at this LINK.
Anyone wishing to review a copy of the Phillips Order issued by President Judge Legg of the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Gerald Connor of the Scranton, Pennsylvania office of Margolis Edelstein for bringing this decision to my attention.  

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