Monday, October 28, 2019

UIM Carrier's Attempt to Rely Upon Third Party Release to Preclude UIM Claim is Rejected

Here's another decision in which a court rejected a UIM carrier's attempt to argue that a Plaintiff's UIM claim was barred by the Release executed by the Plaintiff in the companion third party case arising out of the same accident.

In the case of Lane v. USAA General Indem. Co., NO. 18-537 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 2019 Surrick, J.), the UIM carrier argued that a general release signed in a third party claim can be used by the underinsured motorist carrier to release an underinsured motorist claim, even when the UIM carrier paid no consideration.

The Plaintiff executed a release in the third party action which included language releasing “any other person, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed to be liable.”  The Court noted that the Release did not identify the UIM insurer directly.

In rejecting the carrier's position , the District Court relied, in part, upon the Pennsylvania Superior Court's decision in Sparler v. Fireman’s Ins. Co. of Newark, N.J., 521 A.2d 433 (Pa. Super. 1987), allocator denied, 540 A.2d 535 (Pa. 1988).  The District Court noted that, “[u]nder Sparler, Plaintiff’s general release…..will not preclude Plaintiff from pursuing the present action against Defendant for UIM benefits because the executed release did not contain language unequivocally discharging Defendant from its contractual obligation to provide UIM benefits to Plaintiff.”

 The District Court finds that the carrier's reliance on Buttermore v. Aliquippa Hosp., 561 A.2d 733 (Pa. 1989) to be distinguishable because Buttermore did not involve UIM benefits.

The Court also rejected the UIM carrier's reliance on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas case of Crisp v. ACE Am. Ins. Co., 2017 Phila Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 125 (Phila. Cnty. C.C.P. 2017) is because that case was not binding precedent.  The Tort Talk post on the Crisp case, which contains a Link to that Opinion, can be viewed HERE.

The Lane case reviewed in this post can be accessed at this LINK

I send thanks to Attorney Scott B. Cooper of the Harrisburg, PA law firm of Schmidt Kramer for bringing this case to my attention. 

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