Friday, May 20, 2022

Court Addresses Forum Selection Clause in a Post-Koken UIM Case As Well As the Validity of Allegations of Recklessness

In the case of Coello v. Fitzgerald and Erie Insurance Exchange, No. 7019-CV-2021 (C.P. Monroe Co. Feb. 11, 2022 Zulick, J.), the court addressed issued of proper venue in a post-Koken motor vehicle accident litigation. 

Relative to the Preliminary Objections filed by the UIM carrier Defendant asserting improper venue, the court noted that, although venue is proper in Monroe County under Pa. R.C.P. 2179, which allows for an injured party to bring a civil action against an insurance company/ corporation in a county where that company or corporation regularly conducts business, in this matter, Erie Insurance was relying upon a forum selection clause in the parties’ insurance contract.

Under that forum selection clause, the parties agreed that any suit to enforce the terms of the policy would be filed in the county of the Plaintiff’s legal domicile at the time the suit was filed. The record in this case confirmed that the Plaintiff alleged in his Complaint that he resided in Scranton, Lackawanna County.

The court upheld the forum selection clause and carved out the UIM case and transferred that portion of the case to Lackawanna County but kept the Plaintiff's case against the tortfeasor in Monroe County.

As such, the UIM carrier Defendant’s Preliminary Objections with regards to venue was sustained.

In so ruling, the court found that the Plaintiff’s argument that it would be unreasonable to put him to the expense of securing a medical expert for two (2) separate trials did not outweigh the contract provision on venue.

Judge Arthur L. Zulick
Monroe County

In his Opinion, Judge Arthur L. Zulick of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas also addressed the tortfeasor Defendant’s demurrer against the Plaintiff’s claims against punitive damages. The tortfeasor Defendant asserted that the Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support such a claim and that the Plaintiff had only merely alleged that a motor vehicle collision had occurred.

Relative to the allegations of recklessness, Judge Zulick referred to Rule of Civil Procedure 1019(b), which provides that conditions of the mind may be averred generally. The court noted that, under the case of Archbald v. Kemble, 971 A.2d 513, 519 (Pa. Super. 2009), an allegation of recklessness is an allegation as to a condition of the mind which could be averred generally.

As such, the court denied the Defendant’s demurrer to the Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages and noted that such a decision should be left to the jury in terms of whether the Plaintiff’s case met the burden of proof in this regard.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (April 12, 2022).

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