Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Plaintiff Cannot Sue Tortfeasor's Liability Carrier

In the case of Nails v. Amguard Ins. Co., No. 3-23-CV-00557 (M.D. Pa. July 10, 2023 Carlson, M.J.), the court granted a Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in a case involving a pro se Plaintiff who was involved in a motor vehicle accident after which she sued not only the alleged tortfeasor but also the tortfeasor's liability insurance carrier.

The court ruled that Pennsylvania law does not permit a tort Plaintiff to maintain a direct cause of action against the alleged tortfeasor’s insurance carrier.  Magistrate Judge Carlson, quoting Holovich v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 600 F. Supp. 3d 572, 579 (E.D. Pa. 2022), wrote:

“It is well-settled that under Pennsylvania law, an injured party has no right to directly sue the insurer of an alleged tortfeasor unless a provision of the policy or a statute create such a right.” Apalucci v. Agora Syndicate, Inc., 145 F.3d 630, 632 (3d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted); see also Vella v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., Civ. No. 1:17-CV-1900, 2018 WL 1907335, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2018) (“In Pennsylvania, it is well-settled law that a third-party claimant cannot bring a cause of action for bad faith against an alleged tortfeasor's liability insurer.  (citing Strutz v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 415 Pa.Super. 371, 609 A.2d 569, 570–71 (1992) and Brown v. Candelora, 708 A.2d 104, 108 (Pa. Commw. 1998))).

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Simply put, “absent a permissive statute or policy provision, a tort claimant cannot maintain a direct action against the insurance company.” Mallalieu-Golder Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Exec. Risk Indem., Inc., 254 F. Supp. 2d 521, 525 (M.D. Pa. 2003)."

Judge Carlson went on to note in the Nails case that "[g]iven this settled tenet of Pennsylvania law, Nails may not maintain a direct action against Amguard based upon the alleged negligence of one of its policyholders."

Rather, the Plaintiff may only legally sue the tortfeasor. In this regard, the Plaintiff can rely upon the tortfeasor’s insurance company to satisfy its contractual obligation to pay the claim against the insured tortfeasor.

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

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

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