20. On May 2, 1968, Haecker's motion for summary judgment was denied in an opinion by Judge Masterson which noted that there were unresolved questions of fact.
21. Mr. John Wolf, an employee of Liberty Mutual and the salesman who sold and serviced the policies to Haecker, knew of the fire the day it occurred and discussed it with people who knew about it. (Deposition of John Wolf, p. 14.)
This matter was tried non-jury. Before the Court are the trial deposition, notes of testimony and briefs of counsel.
Liberty Mutual claims it is entitled to judgment because the Haecker letter, received by it sometime in September 1965 was not a sufficient notice of the accident as required by their policy. Liberty Mutual further claims that Haecker was put on notice of possible claims by the fire marshal's report of October 8, 1965, and thus its delay of almost 16 months in reporting the Acme claim cannot be excused.
The issues are whether the Haecker letter sometime in September of 1965 was a sufficient notice of the accident and, if not, was the 16 month delay in reporting the Acme claim excused by a lack of knowledge of the possibility of that claim. If Haecker did not or could not have known of the Acme claim prior to Acme's letter of December 22, 1966, then Haecker's notice to Liberty Mutual on December 29, 1966, was timely and sufficient even if the Haecker September letter was not a sufficient notice. Ripepi v. American Insurance Co., 349 F.2d 300 (3rd Cir. 1965).
Pennsylvania law is applicable to this case and Pennsylvania law is clear that notice provisions in liability insurance policies will be strictly construed. Hachmeister, Inc. v. Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of Wisconsin, 403 Pa. 430, 169 A.2d 769 (1961). Walter Hawthorne v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 322 F. Supp. 1096, 1971. The reason for the strict construction of the notice provision is to enable the insurance company to investigate the circumstances of the accident while the matter is fresh in the minds of all concerned and enable them to make a timely defense to any claim filed. Hachmeister, supra.
It appears to me that the Haecker letter in September was such notice as contemplated in Hachmeister. The letter was designed to notify customers and creditors of the fire. It mentions the time and place of the fire and its location. Further, the words "completely destroyed" give all that anyone could ask for by way of information that was available at the time.
It further appears that the fire was given extensive news coverage and at least one Liberty Mutual employee knew about it. At the time the letter was sent the cause of the fire was unknown, also the extent of damage to other buildings was unknown.
Under Pennsylvania law, what is sufficient notice necessarily depends on the circumstance of each case. Under the facts as I find them to be, the aforementioned letter which was received by Liberty Mutual was sufficient and timely, and designed to enable them to investigate the circumstance while the matter was fresh in the minds of all concerned.
In the view I take of this case, it is unnecessary to discuss what Haecker should have done subsequent to the first notice.
Judgment is entered for the defendants.
Conclusions of Law
1. This Court has jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties, there being requisite diversity of citizenship and proper jurisdictional amount in controversy; and, venue is properly within this District.
2. Pennsylvania law is applicable to this case.
3. Pennsylvania law strictly construes notice provisions in insurance contracts.
4. The requirement in the insurance contract to give timely notice of an accident is applicable to plaintiff.
5. The notice given by Haecker to Liberty Mutual in its letter "sometime in September of 1965" was a timely and sufficient notice.
AND NOW, to wit, this 30th day of April, 1971, judgment is entered in favor of defendants and against plaintiff.
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