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Although Pennsylvania Uninsured Drivers May Not Recover First Party Benefits, They May Recover Economic Damages From At-Fault Driver

On February 21, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania published its decision in Corbin v. Khosla, 2012 Pa. LEXIS 350 (Pa. 2012). Corbin was before the Supreme Court on certification from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which had ruled that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should decide the case because it involved interpretation of a state law, namely the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVRFL").

In Corbin, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had decided that while an insured driver can recover economic damages from a third party tortfeasor, the same driver cannot recover such damages from an insurance company. The decision was appealed to the Third Circuit, which in turn certified the matter to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court was asked to answer the following question: "Whether an uninsured driver who is injured in a motor vehicle accident with an insured driver may sue the insured driver in tort for economic damages." The court had to consider two parts of the MVFRL: Section 1714, which prohibits uninsured drivers from recovering first party benefits (i.e. medical expenses and income loss), and Section 1705, which makes uninsured drivers subject to the limited tort alternative and further provides that limited tort electors may recover damages for economic losses.

The Corbin court analyzed two prior Pennsylvania Superior Court decisions, McClung v. Breneman, 700 A.2d 495 (Pa. Super. 1997) and Bryant v. Reddy, 793 A.2d 926 (Pa. Super. 2002). In both McClung and Bryant, the Superior Court held that uninsured drivers could not recover economic damages from third party defendants.

In Corbin, the Supreme Court opined that both McClung and Bryant were wrongly decided. The court noted that in both cases the Superior Court had relied on Section 1714, which applies only to claims for first party benefits. The Corbin court held that Section 1705 is the more relevant provision. Again, Section 1705 makes an uninsured driver subject to limited tort, and provides that a limited tort plaintiff is entitled to recover economic damages. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that an uninsured driver has the same rights as a limited tort elector, and may recover economic damages from a third party tortfeasor.

In rendering this opinion, the Supreme Court in no way changes the rule that an uninsured driver may not recover first party benefits for medical expenses or wage loss. Nevertheless, pursuant to Corbin, that same uninsured plaintiff can now recover economic damages from the third party tortfeasor.

For more information, please contact Craig Murphey, or any other member of MacDonald Illig's Insurance Practice Group.