Erie Insurance Exchange v. Harding, Pa. No. CV-23-00,668 (C.P. Lyco. January 8, 2024) (Linhardt, J.).
Plaintiff Erie Insurance Exchange commenced this action by Complaint filed June 21, 2023, seeking a declaratory judgment concerning insurance coverage. Plaintiff is an unincorporated reciprocal insurance exchange. The Defendants are Melissa Harding, Brad Harding and the Estate of Daniel Blake Harding. Daniel Blake Harding was the son of Melissa and Brad Harding, who are the administrators of his estate (the “Estate”). Daniel Blake Harding died as a result of injuries sustained in a vehicle accident that occurred while he was operating a motorcycle in Hughesville Borough, Lycoming County, on April 7, 2023.
The controversy here arises out of Plaintiff’s refusal to offer stacked UIM benefits for other, non-accident vehicles insured under the decedent’s mother’s policy. Plaintiff contends that stacked UIM coverage is available only to the “named insured” and her “resident relatives” and that the decedent did not qualify as either at the time of the accident. Therefore, Plaintiff contends that it is not required to offer stacked benefits for other vehicles insured under the mother’s automobile insurance policy (the “Policy”). Defendants disagree, contending that stacked benefits are available because the decedent is listed under the subject policy both as a “driver” of the accident motorcycle and as an “insured.”
“Stacking” is “the ability to add the coverages available from different vehicles and/or different policies to provide a greater amount of coverage available under any one vehicle or policy.” Intra-policy stacking, which is at issue here, is governed by Section 1738 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (the “MVFRL”), which provides that, when more than one vehicle is insured under a single vehicle insurance policy, the limit for UIM coverage applies separately for each vehicle; however, the limits available for an insured are the sum of the limits for each vehicle as to which the injured person is an insured, unless a named insured waives such stacking.
The Policy provides that stacked coverage is limited to “you” and a “relative.” It defines “you” as a person identified as a “Named Insured” on the “Declarations,” and “relative” as a “resident” of a Named lnsured’s household who is related to the Named Insured by blood, marriage or adoption or who is a ward or other person under age 21 who is in a Named lnsured’s care. Plaintiff contends that the decedent is not a Named Insured, because the Policy’s Declarations list “Melissa A. Harding” under the field labeled “Named lnsured.” Defendants disagree, pointing out that Daniel Harding is listed on the Declarations as driver and co-owner of the accident motorcycle and is specifically identified as “Child/lnsured.” Plaintiff contends that the decedent is not a “relative” because he did not reside with his mother at the time of the accident. Defendants admit that the decedent resided with his father and not with his mother at the time of the accident, but they do not concede he is not a “relative” under the Policy.
Plaintiff contends that on March 15, 2021, Melissa Harding, Named Insured on the Policy, applied to Plaintiff for the Policy. In connection with her application, she executed a form entitled, “Request for Lower Limits of Underinsured Motorist Benefit.” Pursuant to that Request, the Named Insured purchased UIM coverage with limits of “$100,000.00 Each Person” and “$300,000.00 Each Accident.” Plaintiff contends that this is a valid and enforceable election of coverage by Defendants made in exchange for lower premiums on the Policy and that Defendants are thereby barred from recovery of benefits in excess of those elected. Defendants disagree with Plaintiff’s contention, primarily on the basis that the decedent, Daniel Blake Harding, is neither Melissa Harding nor a resident relative of hers but, instead, is named as insured in his own right under the Policy. As such, Defendants contend the decedent is entitled to full UIM benefits under the Policy.
The Court agrees with the Plaintiff. The plain language of the Policy’s Declarations lists “Melissa A. Harding” as the “Named lnsured.” It does not list any other person under the field “Named lnsured.” The Policy provided insurance coverage for Daniel Harding, but he was not the “Named Insured.” As explained above, the mere mention of a person’s name in the policy of insurance does not make that person a class-one insured entitled to stacked UIM benefits. Under the plain language of the Policy, the decedent was entitled to coverage but was not entitled to stacked UIM benefits.
The Court does not find the Policy to be ambiguous. As explained above, the Court concludes that under the plain language of the Policy the decedent is not a “Named Insured” and is not otherwise entitled to stacked UIM benefits. Further, Defendant is creating ambiguity where none exists. There is but one unambiguous reading of the Policy language: that the word that precedes the virgule, “CHILD,” refers to Daniel, and the word that follows the virgule, “INSURED,” refers to Melissa Harding.
Under the MVFRL, a named insured may reject UIM coverage, waive stacking, or request lower limits for all persons covered by the policy. Melissa Harding’s election of UIM limits available under the Policy was directly tied to the premiums charged for that Policy. As such, it is entirely sensible that the election of benefits by the person who is financially responsible for the Policy is applicable to all persons covered by the Policy. Furthermore, regardless of whether the decedent is an insured, he is a third party beneficiary of the Policy, which is owned by his mother. As such, the decedent is entitled only to the benefits available under the Policy.
For the reasons explained above, the Court finds that Daniel Blake Harding was not a “Named Insured” under the Policy and was not a resident relative of a “Named Insured.” As such, he is not entitled to stacked UIM benefits. Furthermore, he is bound by the coverage elections made by his mother, Melissa Harding, who is the “Named Insured” on the Policy. Accordingly, the Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED, and the Defendants’ cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED.