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UNITED STATES v. GERA

February 2, 1968

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew GERA, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUMBAULD

 Defendant Andrew Gera was driver of an automobile which on December 15, 1963, hit a pole and a passenger, his brother, Corporal Joseph Gera, a Marine, sustained injuries. Hospital care amounting to $2,087.65 was furnished by the Government. Apparently no action has been brought against defendant by his brother. On November 29, 1967, the United States brought this suit under the Medical Care Recovery Act of September 25, 1962, 76 St. 593, 42 U.S.C. § 2651.

 The statute provides that "In any case in which the United States is authorized or required by law to furnish hospital * * * care * * * to a person who is injured * * * under circumstances creating a tort liability upon some third person * * * the United States shall have a right to recover from said third person the reasonable value of the care and treatment so furnished and shall, as to this right, be subrogated to any right or claim that the injured * * * person * * * has against said third person to the extent of the reasonable value of the care and treatment so furnished."

 The phrase about tort liability of course means allegedly creating tort liability, and is a condition upon the Government's right to reimbursement. It does not require that such liability shall first have been established by litigation. Otherwise Section 2651(b) regarding enforcement procedure would be useless. The time when the tort liability is allegedly created is of course the date of the collision or other event from which such liability allegedly flows.

 We conclude therefore that the condition is met in the case at bar and that the Government on December 15, 1963, acquired a right to reimbursement which it could enforce under Section 2651(b) after the lapse of six months by bringing suit.

 Defendant contends that the Government's rights are purely derivative and arise by subrogation. We are not impressed by this argument.

 The italicized word "and" in the above quotation from the statute must be given its full effect. It plainly means "furthermore" rather than "that is to say". *fn1" The language preceding "and" gives the Government a separate and independent statutorily created right. The language following "and" merely precludes double recovery by providing that, with respect to that portion of the damages which the injured party might otherwise recover which comprises or duplicates that which the statute authorizes the Government to collect, the Government shall succeed to the rights of the injured party and shall be the beneficiary of such recovery to the exclusion of the injured party.

 Hence the Government is not limited to placing itself derivatively in the shoes of the injured party (which in the case at bar would be empty shoes) but may bring its independent action, to enforce its own statutory right. *fn2"

 Is this right now barred by any statute of limitations?

 Defendant urges that the action is barred by the Pennsylvania two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, the Act of June 24, 1895, P.L. 236, 12 P.S. § 34, which provides: "Every suit hereafter brought to recover damages for injury wrongfully done to the person, in case where the injury does not result in death, must be brought within two years from the time when the injury was done and not afterwards."

 This statute might apply if the Government were limited to its subrogation claims and were not here enforcing its independent statutory right.

 However, the instant action is really not "founded upon a tort". It is founded upon a statute. The right of the Government is created by the Act of 1962. Circumstances imposing tort liability upon a third party are simply a condition imposed by the terms of the statute which must be fulfilled in order for the statutorily created right to become effectual and operative.

 Section 2415(b) therefore is inapplicable. Likewise Section 2418(a) would not apply, as the statutory right is not one "founded upon any contract ...


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