Court Scores Victory for Accident Victims with Help from PaTLA

The following article appeared in PaTLA News, a publication of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association in November, 1995.

Victims injured in motor vehicle-related accidents with no other insurance can still recover limited benefits for their injuries thanks to the efforts of PaTLA’s Amicus Curiae Committee.  Amicus Committee members James R. Ronca of Harrisburg and Leonard A. Sloane of Media played key roles in the case by providing expert analysis and advocacy on behalf of injured victims.

On August 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s decision in Pennsylvania Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan v. English holding that victims injured while occupying or operating an uninsured motor vehicle after July 1, 1990, the effective date of the Act 6 amendments, are eligible for benefits under the Assigned Claims Plan.  At issue was whether the Act 6 Amendments to the MVFRL, which provides optional UM/UIM coverage, effectively eliminated the obligation of the Assigned Claims Plan to pay benefits to persons otherwise eligible or injured while driving or occupying an uninsured vehicle.  The Supreme Court held that the Assigned Claims Plan was required to provide such benefits and reversed the Superior Court.

PaTLA President Joanna Hamill Flum said that the Supreme Court’s decision in English “represents a significant victory for those Pennsylvanians who are most in need – victims who, through no fault of their own, have no other source of insurance coverage.”  Hamill Flum said that English affects individuals who are very deserving of PaTLA’s help.  “PaTLA recognizes the rights of motor vehicle accident victims, whether they are uninsured or underinsured, to receive fair compensation for their injuries,” she added. “We are proud of this recent victory and are grateful to Len Sloane, Jim Ronca and David Rosenberg for their efforts,” Hamill Flum added.

Rosenberg, who represented the appellant, Maria English, in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court and in Superior Court, said the victory would not have been possible without support from the Amicus Committee and the involvement of Sloane who prepared the brief and Ronca who argued the case.  Rosenberg said it’s hard financially for a single law firm to go up against a large insurance company in these types of cases.  “There are significant costs in bringing a case to the Supreme Court; PaTLA’s expert assistance was a big plus.”  He said.

Rosenberg said that English will affect at least 2,000 cases across the state each year.  Many of these will come from Philadelphia.  The decision is important, said Rosenberg, because it will keep in place a mechanism for Pennsylvanians in need to pay for their medical bills.  “We’re not talking about a lot of money,” said Rosenberg, noting that the maximum amount you can receive from the Assigned Claims Plan is $15,000 including $10,000 for pain and suffering.

The Assigned Claims Plan provides benefits for those individuals injured in a motor vehicle-related accident who have no other available source of insurance coverage.  Owners of motor vehicles are ineligible to claim benefits under the Assigned Claims Plan.

On August 26, 1990, English, who was a passenger in an uninsured motor vehicle, which was stopped at an intersection, was seriously injured when the vehicle in which she was riding was struck by another uninsured vehicle.  Thereafter, English applied for Assigned Claims Plan benefits. While the plan paid first-party benefits, it denied her UM claim for pain and suffering.

A declaratory judgment action was filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County and the Trial Court ruled that English was held eligible for UM benefits under the plan.  The Superior Court reversed, holding that English did not meet the eligibility requirements of the plan and, in effect, the Superior Court’s decision precluded anyone injured after July 1, 1990, from recovering from the Plan unless they were a pedestrian or a bicyclist.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Ralph J. Cappy concluded that the Superior Court’s interpretation of the Assigned Claims Plan eligibility requirements was not only unfair but unreasonable. Justice Cappy held that denying Ms. English coverage would serve no purpose because she did not own a motor vehicle and therefore had no obligation to purchase insurance.