October 13th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Financial Responsibility Law

Geist v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 27285 (3rd Cir. September 29, 2022) (Rendell, C.J.)  Miranda Geist was injured in an automobile accident. After discovering that the driver’s insurance coverage could not compensate her for her injuries, she sought to recover underinsured motorist (“UIM”) benefits under her parents’ automobile insurance policy. Her parents’ insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”), offered her up to $100,000 in benefits, but Geist maintains that she is entitled to up to $200,000 in benefits because State Farm failed to seek a waiver to provide a UIM-coverage limit below the bodily injury-coverage limit when her father added a new vehicle to the policy. Geist sued State Farm seeking a declaration to this effect. The District Court dismissed her complaint with prejudice, concluding that Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 1701-99.7 (“MVFRL”) does not require insurers to seek such elections of UIM coverage-limits when policyholders add vehicles to their existing policies. Because its decision was correct, we will affirm the District Court’s order. Miranda Geist sustained serious injuries in an automobile accident. Seeking compensation for her injuries, she asserted and later settled a tort claim against the driver and his insurer. Because this settlement did not fully compensate her, she made a claim to recover UIM benefits from State Farm under a Pennsylvania Personal Auto Policy issued to her parents, Kevin and Karen Iwanski (the “Policy”).  When State Farm issued the Policy in 2010, it insured two vehicles and provided liability coverage of $100,000 per person / $300,000 per accident for bodily injuries. Kevin Iwanski also elected for the Policy to provide UIM benefits of up to $50,000 per person / $100,000 per accident. From then until the date of Geist’s accident, he made only two changes to the Policy: (1) he removed the second vehicle in January 2011; and (2) added a third vehicle in February 2013. As is relevant here, at the time Iwanski added the third vehicle to the Policy, he did not execute an acknowledgment for UIM-coverage limits below the bodily injury-coverage limits. Because her father never executed this acknowledgment when he added the third vehicle to the Policy, Geist believed that, under the Policy, she could recover up to $200,000 in UIM benefits, the stacked total of the $100,000 UIM coverage for each insured vehicle. State Farm, however, paid her only $100,000 in benefits, maintaining that the Policy provided only up to $50,000 in UIM coverage per vehicle—the lower amount Iwanski elected. Geist, in turn, sued State Farm in Pennsylvania state court. In her putative class action, she seeks a declaration that State Farm must provide a stacked total of $200,000 in UIM coverage under the Policy.  State Farm discharged its statutorily imposed duty in 2010. That year, Geist’s parents sought an automobile insurance policy that included UIM coverage, and State Farm issued the Policy with UIM-coverage limits of $50,000 per person / $100,000 per accident after it received an executed written document that requested these limits. And no events in the years before Geist’s accident triggered sections 1731 and 1734‘s obligations because, as Geist concedes, State Farm never issued a new policy to her parents. So the MVFRL never required State Farm to seek a new written election for lower UIM-coverage limits under the Policy. The MVFRL requires insurers to seek elections of lower UIM-coverage limits only when they issue policies. State Farm discharged this duty, and, as her father elected a UIM-coverage limit of $50,000, Geist may not recover any amount in excess of this limit. For this reason, we will affirm the District Court’s order.

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 ]



Article Categories