Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Pennsylvania Superior Court Addresses UIM Coverage Issues Regarding Discrepancies In the Policy Documents

In the case of Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Davis, No. 310 MDA 2021 (Pa. Super. May 9, 2022 Olson, J, Kunselman, J., and Stevens, P.J.E.) (Op. by Stevens, P.J.E.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of a carrier in a UIM arbitration matter on issues of whether or not the subject automobile insurance policy had certain UIM coverages available.

This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred back in 2005. The Plaintiff was injured while operating a vehicle owned by his employer.

The vehicle operated by the Plaintiff was insured by Hartford under a commercial automobile insurance policy. During the annual renewals of the policy up through the time of the Plaintiff’s accident, it has been the practice of the insurance company to obtain a UIM coverage rejection form for each policy term renewal. However, the carrier failed to do so for the policy in question.

At the time of the subject accident, a Pennsylvania UIM coverage endorsement was appended to the subject policy although the policy did not specify any limit of UIM coverage for Pennsylvania.

In entering summary judgment, the trial court found that the UIM policy issued by Hartford for the subject year of the accident did not specify a limit of UIM coverage for Pennsylvania and that, therefore, the coverage limit was $0 and the Pennsylvania UIM endorsement attached to the policy was a nullity. The trial court further held that the employer as effectively waived UIM coverage in Pennsylvania by executing a rejection of UIM protection form a few years before the accident.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the trial court erred in finding that the subject policy of insurance issued by the Hartford did not provide for UIM coverage at the time of the accident despite the fact that a UIM coverage endorsement was attached to the policy. The Pennsylvania Superior Court also agreed with the Plaintiff that the trial court had erred in concluding that the rejection of UIM protection form executed by the employer prior to the accident was applicable to the subject policy.

The Superior Court based its decision, in part, on 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1731, which mandates that an insurance company issuing a policy in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must provide UM/UIM coverage equal to the bodily injury liability coverage, unless the insured validly rejects UM/UIM coverage or validly requests lower limits pursuant to §1734.

Accordingly, where, as here, the subject policy of insurance provided $2 million dollars in liability coverage at the time of the accident, absent a valid and specific rejection of UIM coverage, the court found that the Pennsylvania UIM coverage limit in this case would also be $2 million dollars. Elsewhere in the Opinion, it was indicated that the Plaintiff had previously secured an Arbitration Award in excess of $2 million dollars on the case presented.

The trial court’s decision was vacated and the case was remanded for additional proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

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

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

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