Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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In 1997, Suffolk Construction Company entered into a contract with the University of Connecticut (“UConn”) for the construction of several buildings on UConn’s campus. UConn secured insurance policies from Reliance Insurance Company for the Project, naming Suffolk (and other contractors) as an insured. Suffolk completed the work in January 2001. The Reliance insurance policy was extended until January 2004. However, in late 2001, however, Reliance went into liquidation. In 2013 and 2014, UConn complained of defects in the construction that resulted in damage to its buildings. UConn initiated legal proceedings against Suffolk and other contractors. In 2016, Suffolk submitted a proof of claim to the Insurance Commissioner of Pennsylvania, as the statutory liquidator of Reliance. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case involved the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's interpretation of certain contract language using Connecticut law. The Commonwealth Court found that the language of the contract was clear and unambiguous, thus precluding consideration of extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court determined, however, a Settlement Agreement between the parties could have been construed as nothing more than a mutual general release between UConn and Suffolk: "The ambiguity stems not from Suffolk’s 'subjective perception' of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, but from the terms of the agreement itself, as the language releasing claims for 'insurance coverage' and 'indemnification' does not have a single, clear meaning." As such, the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to consider extrinsic evidence, outside of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, to discern the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the Commonwealth Court decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Suffolk Constr. v. Reliance Ins." on Justia Law

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This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether an increase to the limits of underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage for multiple vehicles that are insured under an existing policy constitutes a “purchase” for purposes of Subsection 1738(c) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Michelle Barnard purchased a personal automobile policy from Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (“Travelers”) to insure her two vehicles. As part of this policy, Barnard purchased UIM coverage in the amount of $50,000 per vehicle. Barnard waived stacking of her UIM coverage limits. Two years later, Barnard increased the UIM coverage limit on each of her vehicles to $100,000. Barnard did not execute a new stacking waiver at that time. Then several more years later, Barnard was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. When Barnard sought UIM benefits from Travelers, Travelers offered her $100,000 based upon the UIM coverage limit on one of her vehicles. Barnard filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking $200,000 in stacked UIM benefits. Travelers removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Based upon the plain language of Subsection 1738(c), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: therefore, an increase of UIM coverage under circumstances as was presented here triggered an insurance company’s statutory obligation to offer an insured the opportunity to waive stacking of the new, aggregate amount of UIM coverage. View "Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Rachel Dixon was driving a car owned by her boyfriend, Rene Oriental-Guillermo (“Policyholder”), when she was involved in an accident with a vehicle in which Priscila Jimenez was a passenger, and which was owned by Iris Velazquez, and operated by Alli Licona-Avila. At the time of the accident, Dixon resided with Policyholder, who had purchased a personal automobile insurance policy (“Policy”) for his vehicle through Safe Auto Insurance Company (“Safe Auto”). The Policy contained an unlisted resident driver exclusion (“URDE”), which excluded from coverage any individuals who lived with, but were not related to, the policyholder, and whom the policyholder did not specifically list as an additional driver on the insurance policy. Jimenez and her husband Luis (collectively, “Appellants”) filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixon, Policyholder, and Licona-Avila. On May 13, 2015, Safe Auto filed a complaint against Dixon, Policyholder, and Appellants, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the enforceability of the URDE with respect to Dixon. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Safe Auto, finding the URDE unambiguous, valid, and enforceable, and concluding that Safe Auto had no duty under the Policy to defend or indemnify Dixon in the underlying personal injury lawsuit. Appellants timely appealed to the Superior Court, arguing: (1) the trial court erred in holding the URDE was valid and enforceable; (2) that the URDE violated the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”); and (3) that the URDE violated public policy. The Superior Court affirmed the order of the trial court in a divided, published opinion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concurred the URDE at issue in this case was enforceable, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Safe Auto v. Oriental-Guillermo" on Justia Law

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The longstanding dispute between UPMC; UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, “Highmark”); and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) is again before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This time, the issue centered on the parties’ rights and obligations under a pair of Consent Decrees that, since 2014, governed the relationship between UPMC and Highmark with regard to the provision and financing of certain healthcare services to their respective insurance subscribers. The Consent Decrees were scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2019. Following the Supreme Court's decision in "Shapiro I," on February 7, 2019, OAG filed a four-count petition at Commonwealth Court to Modify Consent Decrees (“Petition”), thus commencing the underlying litigation. OAG argued the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Shapiro I controlled this case, and in so doing, misapplied the applicable principles of contract law. Highmark argued the Commonwealth Court erred in imposing a “materiality” limitation upon the Modification Provision, observing that nothing therein precluded modification of “unambiguous” and “material” terms of the Consent Decrees, as the Supreme Court characterized the termination date in Shapiro I. UPMC counters that OAG’s proposed use of the Modification Provision is contrary to the parties’ intent, in that the intent of the Consent Decrees, UPMC contends, was to establish a five-year transition period for UPMC and Highmark to wind down their contractual relationships, and thereby to minimize disturbance to the health care industry and to avoid sudden disruption of health care consumers’ expectations. The Supreme Court agreed with OAG and Highmark that the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding this case was controlled by Shapiro I. Further, the Court determined OAG and Highmark have set forth a plausible construction of the Modification Provision. The Court remanded this matter back to the Commonwealth Court to interpret the contested provision, and to reconsider the question of extension of the Consent Decrees. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal required the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a “household vehicle exclusion” contained in a motor vehicle insurance policy violated Section 1738 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), 75 Pa.C.S. 1738, because the exclusion impermissibly acted as a de facto waiver of stacked uninsured and underinsured motorist (“UM” and “UIM,” respectively) coverages. In 2012, Appellant Brian Gallagher was riding his motorcycle when William Stouffer ran a stop sign in his pickup truck, colliding with Gallagher’s motorcycle, causing Gallagher to suffer severe injuries. At the time of the accident, Gallagher had two insurance policies with GEICO; one included $50,000 of UIM coverage, insured only Gallagher’s motorcycle; the second insured Gallagher’s two automobiles and provided for $100,000 of UIM coverage for each vehicle. Gallagher opted and paid for stacked UM and UIM coverage when purchasing both policies. Stouffer’s insurance coverage was insufficient to compensate Gallagher in full. Consequently, Gallagher filed claims with GEICO seeking stacked UIM benefits under both of his GEICO policies. GEICO paid Gallagher the $50,000 policy limits of UIM coverage available under the Motorcycle Policy, it denied his claim for stacked UIM benefits under the Automobile Policy. GEICO based its decision on a household vehicle exclusion found in an amendment to the Automobile Policy. The exclusion states as follows: “This coverage does not apply to bodily injury while occupying or from being struck by a vehicle owned or leased by you or a relative that is not insured for Underinsured Motorists Coverage under this policy.” According to Gallagher, by denying him stacked UIM coverage based upon the household vehicle exclusion, GEICO was depriving him of the stacked UIM coverage for which he paid. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the household vehicle exclusion violated the MVFRL, and vacated the Superior Court’s judgment, reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of GEICO, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Gallagher v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to the regulations that implement The Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“Act 205”), an insured can appeal to the Insurance Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of Appellee Pennsylvania Insurance Department (“Department”) when an insurer decides to cancel or not renew the insured’s homeowners’ insurance policy. This matter went before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether, in the context of such an appeal, an insurer was collaterally estopped from litigating issues that were previously discussed in an investigative report that Consumer Services supplied in an earlier and separate appeal involving the same parties, when the Commissioner never entered a final order in the earlier appeal. The Supreme Court held that, for purposes of the doctrine of collateral estoppel, an investigative report does not constitute a final adjudication on the merits of any issue. Accordingly, an insurer is not collaterally estopped from litigating issues in the scenario described here. View "Skotnicki v. Insurance Department" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run on an uninsured motorist (UM) claim under an insurance policy. Specifically, the issue reduced to whether the statute of limitations begins to run on an insured’s ability to initiate a court action to enforce a UM claim in a policy containing an arbitration agreement. The Superior Court held that, for the purpose of UM and underinsured motorist (UIM) claims, the statute of limitations begins to run when a claimant injured in an automobile accident first learns that the other driver is uninsured or underinsured. However, the Supreme Court determined this conclusion was not adequately grounded in the pertinent statutory text, prevailing statute of limitations doctrine, or significant public policy concerns. Accordingly, the Court held that statute of limitations principles attending contract claims apply, and that the running of the statute was commenced upon an alleged breach of a contractual duty, which in this case would be occasioned by the insurer’s denial of coverage or refusal to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court’s order to the contrary. View "Erie Insurance Exchange v. Bristol" on Justia Law

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Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, and in a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the elements of a bad faith insurance claim brought pursuant to Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. section 8371. In 1992, while working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) Appellee LeAnn Rancosky purchased a cancer insurance policy as a supplement to her primary employer-based health insurance. The cancer policy was issued by Appellant Conseco Health Insurance Company (“Conseco”). To pay for the policy, Rancosky’s employer automatically deducted bi-weekly payments of $22.00 from her paycheck. The policy contained a waiver-of premium provision, which excused premium payments in the event Rancosky became disabled due to cancer. In 2003, Rancosky was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Though, Rancosky did not return to her job with USPS following her hospital admission, she remained on her employer’s payroll for several months because she had accrued unused vacation and sick days. Consequently, Conseco continued to receive payroll deducted premiums from Rancosky until June 24, 2003, when Rancosky went on disability retirement. Premium payments were made in arrears; the final premium payment extended coverage under her policy to May 24, 2003. Unbeknownst to Rancosky, her physician statement inaccurately specified her date of disability as beginning on April 21, 2003, rather than on February 4, 2003. 5 Believing that the premiums had been waived and that no further premiums were due on the policy because of her disability from cancer, Rancosky’s final premium payment came from her June 24, 2003, payroll-deducted premium. Over the next two years, as Rancosky experienced several recurrences of her cancer, she continued to submit claims to Conseco. Conseco eventually started denying Rancosky’s claims for further benefits based upon her failure to pay premiums. The Supreme Court adopted the two-part test articulated in Terletsky v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 649 A.2d 680 (Pa. Super. 1994) in order for a plaintiff to recover in a bad faith action; proof of an insurance company’s motive of self-interest or ill-will is not a prerequisite to prevailing in a bad faith claim under Section 8371, as was argued by Appellant. The Court affirmed the superior court, which partially vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on Appellee’s bad faith claim. View "Rancosky v. Washington National Ins. Co." on Justia Law