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SZARMACK v. WELCH (04/23/74)

decided: April 23, 1974.

SZARMACK
v.
WELCH, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Superior Court, April T., 1971, No. 413, affirming judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, July T., 1970, No. 1292, in case of Joseph Szarmack v. Wilbert C. Welch, Jr.

COUNSEL

Robert S. Grigsby, with him Janet N. Valentine, and Thomson, Rhodes & Grigsby, for appellant.

Clyde T. MacVay, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix. Mr. Justice Pomeroy concurs in the result.

Author: Nix

[ 456 Pa. Page 294]

This appeal presents the narrow issue of whether, under the applicable Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, the appellee is entitled to pretrial discovery of the extent of automobile liability insurance carried by appellant. On May 11, 1970, appellee Joseph Szarmack instituted this action against Wilbert C. Welsh, Jr. by way of a complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages for injuries allegedly sustained as the result

[ 456 Pa. Page 295]

    of appellant's negligent operation of his motor vehicle.

During the course of pretrial discovery proceedings, appellee served appellant with the following written interrogatories to which appellant objected: "1. Was the defendant insured by a policy of liability insurance on the date of the accident herein involved? 2. If the answer to the preceding interrogatory is yes, state: (a) The name of the insurance carrier. (b) The limits of liability for bodily injury." After a hearing, the trial court granted appellee's motion to compel answers to the interrogatories and, when appellant refused to comply, appellee moved for sanctions. The trial court then entered a default judgment in favor of the appellee. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed, Szarmack v. Welch, 220 Pa. Superior Ct. 407, 289 A.2d 149 (1972), and we granted allocatur.

The issue presented here has divided the commentators, the lower courts of this state,*fn1 courts of other

[ 456 Pa. Page 296]

    states, and, before the promulgation of F. R. Civil P. 26(b)(2),*fn2 the Federal courts.*fn3

The scope of written interrogatories used in pretrial discovery is limited by Pa. R. C. P. 4005 and 4007 to ". . . any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the action and will substantially aid in the preparation of the pleadings or the preparation or trial of the case." In construing the above language, we must also accommodate Rule 4011 which forbids discovery which "is sought in bad faith; causes unreasonable annoyance . . ., [or] relates to any other matter which is privileged." Thus, while our rules do not explicitly decide the issue presented here, they provide the following guidance: (1) the material must be relevant to the subject matter ...


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