INSURANCE-FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY LAW-INDEMNITY-FIRST PARTY BENEFITS

September 2nd, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Insurance

State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. v. Kelsea Griffiths & Elec. Ins. Co., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150782 (W.D. Pa. August 23, 2022) (Baxter, D.J.)  This action arises from an underlying tort action that was filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Pennsylvania (“Erie County Court”) by Kelsea Griffiths (“Griffiths”) against Andrea Schlaufman (“Schlaufman”) to recover damages for injuries Griffiths sustained in an automobile accident that occurred on August 22, 2014. At the time of the accident, Griffiths was a passenger in a vehicle operated by Heather Bendure (“Bendure”). According to Griffiths, the accident was negligently caused by a second vehicle that was operated by Schlaufman, who fled the scene. Griffiths subsequently joined Bendure as an additional defendant in the underlying action. At the time of the accident, Schlaufman was insured under an automobile insurance policy that provided bodily injury liability (“BI”) coverage limits of $100,000.00. Bendure was insured under an automobile insurance policy with Electric that provided BI coverage limits of $50,000.00 and underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage limits of $50,000.00. Griffiths was insured under two policies of automobile insurance issued by State Farm that provided stacked UIM coverage limits in the total amount of $150,000.00. Griffiths ultimately agreed to settle her liability claim for a total of $100,000.00, receiving $90,000.00 from Schlaufman’s liability insurance carrier and $10,000.00 from Bendure’s insurance carrier, Electric. State Farm consented to the settlement on September 27, 2018, and subsequently received a fully executed copy of the settlement Release in which Griffiths declared, in relevant part, that: I release and discharge … Andrea Schlaufman and her insurance carrier, … and Heather Bendure and her insurance carrier, Electric Insurance Company … from any and all causes of action … which I now have or may hereafter have ….. Griffiths is now seeking to recover UIM benefits from State Farm. On June 4, 2020, State Farm initiated the present action by filing a complaint for declaratory judgment against Griffiths and Electric in the Erie County Court, seeking a determination that Electric is primarily responsible for providing UIM coverage to Griffiths, and that State Farm is the UIM carrier of second priority and is entitled to a credit of $200,000.00 against any UIM benefits to which Griffiths may be entitled under State Farm’s policies. The action was subsequently removed to this Court pursuant to a Notice of Removal filed by Electric on July 15, 2020. The parties have completed discovery and State Farm has filed a motion for summary judgment, which is presently pending before the Court. Griffiths has filed a memorandum in opposition to State Farm’s motion, and State Farm has since filed a reply brief. This matter is now ripe for consideration.  The court ruled that State Farm was second priority under 75 Pa.C.S. § 1733(a) and therefore was entitled to a credit of $200,000 before defendant Kelsey Griffiths is entitled to recover any UIM benefits under the State Farm policy.  Defendant Electric Insurance Company is first priority for UIM coverage.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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