Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Trial Court Follows Mione and Upholds Household Exclusion

In the case of Erie Insurance Exchange v. Burnsworth, No. 325-CV-2021 (C.P. Somerset Co. March 29, 2023 Geary, P.J.), the court upheld a household exclusion under an Erie Insurance policy and confirmed that the carrier did not have any obligation to provide underinsured motorist benefits to the Plaintiffs.

The court additionally found that the Plaintiff had no obligation to provide UIM benefits to the Plaintiff based upon the Plaintiff’s rejection of UIM coverage for the motorcycle involved in the subject accident.

At the time of the accident, the Plaintiffs were on a motorcycle when they were rear-ended.

That motorcycle was insured by Progressive Insurance Company. Under that policy, the Plaintiff had rejected UM and UIM coverage for the motorcycle.

The Plaintiff also had a separate automobile insurance policy with Erie Insurance that covered their automobiles. That policy had a household vehicle exclusion. The motorcycle was not insured under the Erie Insurance policy.

After settling the personal injury claim against the tortfeasor arising out of the accident during which the Plaintiffs were on their motorcycle, the Plaintiffs filed a claim for UIM benefits under their Erie Insurance policy that covered the other vehicles in their household.

Erie rejected the claim and filed this declaratory judgment action requesting that the court find that the Plaintiffs were not entitled to UIM benefits for the motorcycle accident given that the motorcycle was not covered under the Erie Insurance policy and given that the Plaintiff had rejected UIM coverage under the separate policy that covered the motorcycle.

The decision in this case was the result of a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by the carrier.

Judge Geary of the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas noted that, although the Plaintiffs were relying upon the case of Gallagher v. Geico, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had recently resolved the same types of issues as presented in this matter in its decision in the case of Erie Insurance v. Mione, No. 89 MAP 2021 (Pa. Feb. 15, 2023).

Essentially, this trial court judge agreed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Mione that the Plaintiffs are not entitled to UIM coverage in cases where UIM coverage cannot be stacked given that UIM coverage was rejected with respect to the vehicle involved in the accident.  The court found that, in this regard, the requirements under 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1738 regarding securing a waiver of stacking are “simply not implicated.” See Op. at 2. quoting Mione.

Judge Geary emphasized in this Erie v. Burnsworth Opinion that, as “made clear” by Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Mione, “when an insured seeks UM/UIM benefits under a household policy but does not have UM/UIM coverage on the vehicle that he or she was occupying at the time of the collision…the household vehicle exclusion serves as an unambiguous preclusion of all UM/UIM coverage (even unstacked coverage) for damages sustained while operating an unlisted household vehicle."

In short, the court ruled that UIM coverage under the Erie policy could not be stacked onto the motorcycle because the motorcycle was not a covered vehicle under the Erie Insurance policy and given that the Plaintiffs had waived UM/UIM coverage for the motorcycle under the Progressive policy.

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

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

Source of image:  Photo by MateuszDach on www.pexels.com.

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