209 OCTOBER TERM 1976, Appeal from the Decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Div., Law, March Term, 1975, No. 5339 Opening Judgment.
Charles L. Katz, Philadelphia, for appellant.
John J. Walsh, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellee.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ.
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This is an appeal from an order opening a default judgment.
Appellant sued appellee in trespass, by complaint served on April 14, 1975. On April 25, appellant mailed a copy of the complaint to appellee's insurer, Allstate Insurance Company, which referred the case to its attorneys. Appellant's counsel granted appellee three extensions of time within which to enter an appearance or otherwise plead: first, an extension from May 4 (twenty days after service) to May 15; second, a "reasonable extension of time" from May 16, in response to a request from Allstate; third, an extension of thirty days from June 6, in response to a request from Allstate's attorneys. No answer having been filed and no appearance entered by July 14, appellant took judgment by default.
The petition to open was filed on July 18, and was answered on August 5. An amended petition was filed, by leave of court, on September 11, and was answered on September 25; also on September 25, a reply to the answer was filed. On the basis of these pleadings the lower court, on September 29, ordered the judgment opened.
A petition to open may not be granted unless the petitioner offers a reasonable excuse for the underlying default. Balk v. Ford Motor Co., 446 Pa. 137, 285 A.2d 128 (1971). The decision of the lower court regarding the reasonableness of the excuse will not be reversed except for clear abuse of discretion or error of law. Alliance Discount Corp. v. Shaw, 195 Pa. Super. 601, 171 A.2d 548 (1961). Here, the lower court accepted the following explanation as offering a reasonable excuse:
Following receipt of the extension of time [the third extension, from June 6 to July 6], investigation and legal research was undertaken so as to formulate the basis for
[ 250 Pa. Super. Page 521]
an opinion concerning whether or not coverage under the defendant's policy was applicable to the incident complained of in Plaintiff's Complaint. The aforesaid investigation and review had not been completed by the time the extension of time expired and through inadvertence of counsel, and a clerical breakdown of the diary system, a further extension was not requested ...