INSURANCE-FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY LAW-UNDERINSURANCE-WAIVER-POLICY YEAR

May 13th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Insurance

Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Davis, 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 200 (May 9, 2022) (Stevens, P.J.E.)  The trial court held that Keystone effectively waived UIM coverage in Pennsylvania by executing a “Rejection of UIM Protection” form in 2003. The trial court found that this form: (a) was applicable to the 2005- 2006 policy, despite the fact that a new rejection form was never obtained for the 2005-2006 policy term; and (b) fully complied with Section 1731 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 1701-1799.7. Appellant argues that the trial court erred in finding that the 2005-2006 policy issued by Hartford did not provide for UIM coverage at the time of his automobile accident, despite the fact that a UIM Coverage Endorsement was appended to thereto. Appellant also contends that the trial court erred in concluding that the “Rejection of UIM Protection” form executed by Keystone in 2003 was applicable to the 2005-2006 policy term. Following our careful review, we agree. Here, the record reflects that the policy at issue expressly provided for UIM coverage at the time of Appellant’s September 9, 2005 accident. It is undisputed that the 2005-2006 policy issued by Hartford contained a UIM Coverage Endorsement. Additionally, the UIM Coverage Endorsement was referenced on both the Declarations Pages and in the List of Policy Provisions and Endorsements. Under the MVFRL, “Section 1731 mandates that an insurance company issuing a policy in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must provide UM/UIM coverage equal to the bodily injury liability coverage, unless the insured validly rejects UM/UIM coverage or validly requests lower limits of coverage pursuant to section 1734.” Weilacher v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2013 PA Super 97, 65 A.3d 976, 983 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citations omitted); see also 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1731(c.1). The insurance policy issued by Hartford to Keystone and in effect at the time of Appellant’s accident provided $2,000,000.00 in liability coverage. Thus, absent a valid and specific rejection for the 2005-2006 policy term, the Pennsylvania UIM coverage limit was also $2,000,000.00. Hartford would have this Court find that the UIM Coverage Endorsement was issued as a result of a “clerical error” and the Rejection of UIM Coverage form executed by Keystone in 2003 was applicable to the 2005-2006 policy. We decline to do so. Hartford acknowledged that a signed Rejection of UIM Coverage form was never obtained from Keystone for the 2005-2006 policy term, pursuant to its own policies and procedures, and it specifically appended the UIM Coverage Endorsement to the 2005-2006 policy. Contrary to the trial court’s findings, there was also no valid and specific rejection of the UIM coverage for the policy in effect at the time of the accident. It is immaterial that the policy issued by Hartford for the 2005-2006 term did not specify a limit of UIM coverage for Pennsylvania. Pursuant to the MVFRL, liability and UIM coverages must be coextensive unless rejected in accordance with Subsection 1731. Instantly, no Rejection of UIM Coverage form was ever executed by Keystone for 2005-2006 policy term, and thus, by operation of law, the policy at issue was required to provide UIM coverage in an amount equal to the liability coverage of that policy, $2,000,000.00. Based on the foregoing, we find that the trial court failed to give full effect to all the terms of the 2005-2006 policy, namely, the UIM Coverage Endorsement appended thereto. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Hartford; vacate the February 11, 2021 judgment; and remand for proceeding consistent with this opinion.

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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