Pusl v. Means, 2009 Pa. Super. 192 (September 23, 2009)
Craig Murphey, Chair of MacDonald Illig's Insurance Practice Group, prevailed in this recent case before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The decision has been described by commentators as having a "monumental" impact on the relationship between claims for uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage and those against the third party tortfeasor arising from the same accident.
In Pusl v. Means, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident allegedly caused by defendant Means. Pusl sued Means, but before trial she settled her UIM claim with her own insurer for $75,000. Trial was then held, and Pusl was awarded $100,000.
At Means' request, the trial court molded the verdict to reflect Pusl's recovery of UIM benefits for the same accident. Thus the verdict was reduced to $25,000.
Pusl appealed. Mr. Murphey briefed and argued the case before the Superior Court, and a three-judge panel affirmed the trial court's decision.
The Court held that Section 1722 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1722, has, in this context, codified the longstanding public policy against double recovery for the same loss. The Court also rejected the plaintiff's claim that allowing the set-off violates the collateral source rule. Finally, the Court noted that the decision does not offend the notion that a tortfeasor should have to pay for all losses he has caused because the UIM carrier could, if it wishes, preserve its subrogation claim, in which case the defendant would be responsible for the entire verdict but the plaintiff would not recover more than the amount the jury determines is necessary to compensate the plaintiff.
This decision has significant ramifications for auto insurance litigation in Pennsylvania, so it has received much attention. As of the date of this posting it is unclear if the plaintiff will seek allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.