Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
In Re: Senior Health Ins. Co. of PA
In a case concerning the Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania ("SHIP"), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a rehabilitation plan devised by the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner. SHIP, which sold long-term care policies in multiple states, became insolvent due to the high cost of care against inadequate premiums. The rehabilitation plan was designed to correct the company’s financial condition by adjusting the premiums and benefits of the existing policies. However, insurance regulators from Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington ("Regulators") objected to the plan, arguing that it exceeded the Insurance Commissioner's statutory authority and violated their states' regulatory authority over rates. The court rejected these claims, finding that the plan did not exhibit a "policy of hostility" to the public acts of other states and thus did not violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court concluded that the Commonwealth Court, holding exclusive jurisdiction over the distribution of SHIP's assets, did not abuse its discretion by approving the plan. View "In Re: Senior Health Ins. Co. of PA" on Justia Law
Rush v. Erie Insurance Exchange
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a "regular use" exclusion in a motor vehicle insurance policy does not violate the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL), thereby reversing the order of the Superior Court. The case involved Matthew Rush, a detective, who was injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving a city-owned car insured under the city's policy. Rush had his personal vehicles insured with Erie Insurance. When Rush's injuries exceeded the liability insurance limits of the other drivers involved in the accident and the underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage limits of the city's policy, he filed a claim for UIM benefits under his Erie policies. Erie denied coverage based on the "regular use" exclusion in the Erie Policies. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the "regular use" exclusion was valid and enforceable, and did not violate the MVFRL. The court reasoned that UIM coverage was not universally portable and could, therefore, be subject to policy exclusions. View "Rush v. Erie Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law
Tambellini v. Erie Insurance
In this case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Joseph Tambellini, Inc. and HTR Restaurants, Inc., along with other businesses, had their business interruption insurance claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic denied by their insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange. The businesses had sued Erie in various courts across Pennsylvania. Due to the factual and legal overlap among these claims, the businesses moved for all state-wide litigation to be coordinated in Allegheny County for all pre-trial and trial purposes under Rule of Civil Procedure 213.1.Erie appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed in part and reversed in part. According to the Superior Court, the trial court exceeded the authority of Rule 213.1 by ordering the coordination of similar actions against Erie that had not yet been filed. The Superior Court further held that the businesses were parties who were empowered by Rule 213.1 to file the motion for coordination.Upon the parties’ cross-appeals, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted review of both holdings. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania agreed with the Superior Court that the trial court lacked authority to coordinate actions that had not yet been filed. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that Erie had waived any argument that the businesses could not seek coordination when it failed to raise this issue in the trial court. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s order. View "Tambellini v. Erie Insurance" on Justia Law
HTR Restaurants v. Erie Insurance
In a dispute arising from insurance coverage for business interruption losses during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, various businesses, including Joseph Tambellini, Inc. and HTR Restaurants, Inc., had sued their insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange, for denial of their claims. The businesses moved for the coordination of all state-wide litigation, including future filings, in Allegheny County under Rule 213.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows for the coordination of actions in different counties that involve a common question of law or fact. The motion was granted by the trial court, but on appeal, the Superior Court held that the trial court exceeded the authority of Rule 213.1 by ordering the coordination of similar actions against Erie that had not yet been filed.On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania agreed with the Superior Court. The court found that the term "pending" in Rule 213.1 clearly refers to cases that have already been filed, and does not include cases that are imminent or impending. The court further noted that Erie had waived the argument that the plaintiffs were not entitled to seek coordination as it had not raised this issue in the trial court. The Superior Court's order was affirmed, holding that Rule 213.1 does not permit the coordination of actions that have not been filed at the time of the coordination motion and Erie had waived its argument that the plaintiffs were not entitled to seek coordination. View "HTR Restaurants v. Erie Insurance" on Justia Law
The Bert Company v. Turk, et al.
The Bert Company, dba Northwest Insurance Services (“Northwest”), was an insurance brokerage firm with clientele in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. From 2005 to 2017, Matthew Turk (“Turk”) was employed as an insurance broker with Northwest. First National Insurance Agency, LLC (“FNIA” or "First National") was an insurance brokerage firm. To grow its business in that region, First National developed a plan to takeover Northwest, initially by convincing key Northwest employees to leave Northwest for FNIA and to bring their clients with them. Through the fall and winter of 2016, Turk repeatedly met with First National about the plan with the hope that First National could gut Northwest by hiring the bulk of its highest producers, acquiring their clients, and ultimately forcing that company to sell its remaining book of clients. Pursuant to the plan, Turk remained at Northwest to convince the company to sell its remaining business to First National. Northwest refused, choosing instead to fire Turk and initiate legal action. In this appeal by permission, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opined on the jurisprudence of the United State Supreme Court addressing the constitutionality of an award of punitive damages by a civil jury in the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Court's grant of allowance addressed the narrow issue of the appropriate ratio calculation measuring the relationship between the amount of punitive damages awarded against multiple defendants who are joint tortfeasors and the compensatory damages awarded. The superior court calculated the punitive to compensatory damages ratio using a per-defendant approach, rather than a per-judgment approach. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court generally endorsed the per-defendant approach as consistent with federal constitutional principles that require consideration of a defendant’s due process rights. Further, the Court concluded that under the facts and circumstances of this case, it was appropriate to consider the potential harm that was likely to occur from the concerted conduct of the defendants in determining whether the measure of punishment was both reasonable and proportionate. View "The Bert Company v. Turk, et al." on Justia Law
Franks, et al. v. State Farm Mutual
Appellants Robert and Kelly Franks sought automobile insurance from Appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in 2013 for their two vehicles. Appellants included underinsured motorist coverage (“UIM”) in their policy but completed a form rejecting stacked UIM coverage in compliance with Section 1738(d)(2) of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Absent such waiver, stacked coverage would be the default. Appellants removed one of the original vehicles and added a third vehicle to the policy effective 2014, and again rejected stacked UIM coverage. They made another change to the policy in 2015, removing the other of the original insured vehicles with a different car. No additional form rejecting stacked UIM coverage was offered or sought to be completed on the occasion of the removal of the last vehicle, and the ongoing premiums paid by Appellants reflected the lower rate for non-stacked UIM overage on two vehicles. Robert was injured in an accident caused by the negligence of a third party. That party had insufficient liability coverage to cover Robert's injuries. Appellants initiated a claim for UIM benefits under their policy with State Farm, but the parties disagreed on the limit to their benefits. Appellants contended with the last change to the policy, there was no valid waiver of stacked UIM coverage, resulting in a default stacked coverage mandated by statute. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review in this matter was whether the Superior Court erred as a matter of law by holding that removal of a vehicle from a multiple motor vehicle insurance policy, in which stacked coverage had previously been waived, did not require a renewed express waiver of stacked coverage pursuant to Section 1738(c). The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court did not err and affirmed its judgment. View "Franks, et al. v. State Farm Mutual" on Justia Law
Erie Insurance Exch. v. Mione, et al.
In 2018, Albert Mione (“Mione”) was in a collision while operating his motorcycle. Mione’s motorcycle was insured by Progressive Insurance, under a policy that did not include UM/UIM coverage. Albert and his wife Lisa jointly owned a car, which was insured by Erie Insurance on a single-vehicle policy that included UM/UIM coverage with stacking. Mione’s adult daughter Angela also lived in the couple’s home, and she too owned a car, which Erie insured on a single-vehicle policy (“Angela’s policy”). Both of the Erie policies contained household vehicle exclusions barring UM/UIM coverage for injuries sustained while operating a household vehicle not listed on the policy under which benefits are sought. The courts below held that the exclusions were valid and enforceable, citing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1998 decision in Eichelman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 711 A.2d 1006 (Pa. 1998). The Miones, contended that the lower courts erred in applying Eichelman, arguing that the Supreme Court sub silentio overruled that decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Co., 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). The Supreme Court rejected the Miones’ argument, and affirmed. View "Erie Insurance Exch. v. Mione, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: American Network Ins. Co.
A declaratory judgment action was filed in the context of two insurance- company liquidation matters. The parties asserted they informally agreed, among themselves, and the single Commonwealth Court Judge overseeing the cases, to a procedure for a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court to render a decision to be reviewable via exceptions by the Commonwealth Court, en banc. However, as the agreement was not memorialized as of record, the party aggrieved by the panel opinion, the statutory liquidator, lodged an immediate appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after that opinion and order were filed, and then filed exceptions with the Commonwealth Court, en banc. After the Commonwealth Court, en banc, rendered a second opinion and order, overruling the exceptions and confirming the panel’s initial decision, the statutory liquidator filed a second appeal with the Supreme Court parallel to the first. This raised a jurisdictional question. The Supreme Court found two of four petitions filed were properly dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The other two were properly before the Court, and on the merits, the Court affirmed the Panel's July 9, 2021 order: “[t]here is simply no statutory authority for this well-intentioned proposal [or] any standard to guide the Liquidator’s establishment [of the proposal] or [the Commonwealth Court’s] evaluation thereof.” View "In Re: American Network Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Khalil v. Williams
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether Appellant’s legal malpractice claims against Appellees, her former attorneys, were barred under the Court’s decision in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991), which held that a plaintiff could not sue his attorney on the basis of the adequacy of a settlement to which the plaintiff agreed, unless the plaintiff alleged the settlement was the result of fraud. Appellant, Dr. Ahlam Kahlil, owned a unit in the Pier 3 Condominiums in Philadelphia; the unit was insured by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Pier 3 Condominium Association (“Pier 3”) was insured under a master policy issued by Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”). In May 2007, Appellant sustained water damage to her unit as a result of a leak in the unit directly above hers, which was owned by Jason and Anne Marie Diegidio. Due to the water damage, Appellant moved out of her unit and stopped paying her condominium fees. Appellant filed suit against State Farm and Travelers, alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and against the Diegidios, alleging negligence. A year later, Pier 3 filed a separate lawsuit against Appellant for her unpaid condominium fees and charges. In affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court, the Supreme Court found that by finding Appellant’s claims were barred under Muhammad, the lower courts ignored other averments in Appellant’s complaint which did not allege fraud, but, rather, alleged legal malpractice by Appellees in allowing Appellant to enter into a settlement agreement in the Water Damage Case that subsequently precluded her from raising her desired claims in the Fees Case, while repeatedly advising Appellant that the settlement agreement would not preclude those claims. "[A]s our review of Appellant’s complaint demonstrates that she was not merely challenging the amount of her settlement in the Water Damage Case, but rather alleged that Appellees provided incorrect legal advice regarding the scope and effect the Travelers Release, we hold that Muhammad’s bar on lawsuits based on the adequacy of a settlement is not implicated in this case." View "Khalil v. Williams" on Justia Law
Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)
In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law