Monday, September 21, 2020

Post-Koken Decision Handed Down in Franklin County in Favor of Severance of Cases


In what appears to be the first Post-Koken decision of its kind out of Franklin County, the trial court in the case of Stanhope v. Stoner and GEICO, No. 2020-877 (C.P. Franklin Co. Sept. 14, 2020 Shank, J.), granted a UIM carrier's Preliminary Objections and Motion to Sever the UIM claims from the third party negligence claims asserted against the alleged tortfeasor defendant.

In issuring her decision, Judge Mary Beth Shank noted that there is still no appellate decisions on the issue of whether Post-Koken UIM and third party negligence claims should be consolidated or severed.

Notably, on pg. 3 of the decision, the court cited to the Post-Koken Scorecard on Tort Talk to note that approximately 48 out of the 67 Courts of Common Pleas have addressed this issue with rulings being almost equally split on the issue.  

The court in Stanhope came down on the side of severance, ruling that the two actions involved, one in tort and the other arising from GEICO's alleged contractual obligations to insure the Plaintiff, did not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence.

The court also noted that severance was advisable since it would be unduly prejudicial to the third party defendant to have elements of insurance evidence possibly being admitted and exposed during a jury trial.  The court noted that there is a valid concern that knowledge on the part of the jury of insurance coverages being involved may "motivate the jury to be reckless in awarding damages to be paid...."  See Op. at p. 4.

While the court acknowledged that the plaintiff's argument that judicial economy would be served by keeping the cases consolidated, the court found "severance to be the better reasoned approach" and that the "risk of prejudice to either defendant to outweigh the Court's desire for judicial efficiency."  See Op. at p. 5.

For these reasons, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas came down on the side of ruling in favor of the severance of Post-Koken UIM and third party negligence cases.

Please click this LINK to view this Stanhope decision.

I send thanks to Attorney Joseph Hudock of the Pittsburgh law firm of Summers, McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Rauch, P.C. for bringing this decision to my attention.

 Commentary:  The Stanhope decision tips the split of authority across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in favor of severance.  There are at least 24 County Courts of Common Pleas that have ruled in favor of consolidation of these types of cases and 25 County Courts of Common Pleas ruling in favor of severance.  

In some of these Counties there are splits of authority within the Counties (such as in Philadelphia, Allegheny, and Lackawanna Counties). 

It is hard to believe that, 15 years after the original decision in the Koken case, there has still been no appellate decisions on this issue or many other recurring Post-Koken issues.

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