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DOROTHY HOFFMAN v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (09/17/79)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: September 17, 1979.

DOROTHY HOFFMAN, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA CRIME VICTIM'S COMPENSATION BOARD, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board in case of In Re: Claim of Dorothy Hoffman; Victim: David Hoffman, File No. 77-0286-D.

COUNSEL

Paul J. Leventon, with him William R. Ellis, and Leventon & Leventon, P.C., for appellant.

Sally A. Lied, Deputy Attorney General, with her J. Andrew Smyser, Deputy Attorney General, and Gerald Gornish, Acting Attorney General, for appellee.

Judges Mencer, Rogers and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.

Author: Mencer

[ 46 Pa. Commw. Page 55]

At approximately 4 p.m. on January 18, 1977, David Hoffman, husband of Dorothy Hoffman, sustained a gunshot wound of his chest during a robbery at his place of business and died shortly thereafter of injuries caused by the shooting.

On January 10, 1978, Dorothy Hoffman (claimant) filed a death claim with the Crime Victim's Compensation Board (Board). On April 5, 1978, the Board denied compensation relative to the widow's claim, and the claimant appealed to this Court.

The resolution of this appeal requires an interpretation of Section 477.9(e) of the Act of April 9, 1929, P.L. 177, as amended, added by Section 2 of the Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 574 (Act), 71 P.S. ยง 180-7.9, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

(e) Any award made pursuant to this act shall be reduced by the amount of any payments received or to be received by the claimant as a result of the injury . . . (iii) under any contract of insurance wherein the claimant is the insured beneficiary. . . .

[ 46 Pa. Commw. Page 56]

It is agreed, and the Board so found, that, as a result of the murder of her husband, the claimant suffered a total economic loss of $66,548.82.*fn1 As a result of her husband's death, the claimant received the sum of $85,808.03 as beneficiary of life insurance policies written on the life of her husband. Because the payments received by the claimant as the beneficiary under life insurance policies exceeded the economic loss sustained by the claimant, the Board concluded that it could not make an award to this claimant.

The claimant contends that the Act only requires a reduction of the total loss sustained by payments received under any contract or policy of insurance wherein she is both the insured and the beneficiary. This argument is predicated on the assertion that the words "insured beneficiary," as used in Section 477.9(e)(iii) of the Act, means one who is not only the person insured against a certain loss, but is also the beneficiary of the proceeds of the particular policy of insurance.

Since the person who is insured under a life insurance policy is never personally the beneficiary of the policy, the acceptance of the claimant's contention would remove life insurance proceeds as an item of reduction from the award authorized by the Act. Our reading of the Act indicates to us that the crime victim's compensation program was intended by the Legislature to compensate innocent victims of crime for economic losses sustained by them for which they receive no other compensation. Within limitations set forth in the Act, the program makes up the difference

[ 46 Pa. Commw. Page 57]

    between what the victim lost economically and what a victim received economically as a result of a crime. We are convinced that, had the Legislature intended that widow claimants recover for loss of earnings or support, even though they would have available to them proceeds of life insurance policies, it would never have included Section 477.9(e) in the Act.

Admittedly, the combination of the words "insured beneficiary" is susceptible to more than one interpretation. As we have noted, the claimant urges us to adopt an interpretation which would treat both words as nouns, with the resulting consequence that only when a claimant was both the insured and beneficiary under an insurance policy would the proceeds paid under such a policy be a reduction of any award.

However, our reading of the words in dispute leads us to conclude that the word "insured," as used in Section 477.9(e)(iii), is an adjective modifying "beneficiary" and that the Legislature did not intend it to be a noun such as would be the case if the conjunctive "and" had been inserted between "insured" and "beneficiary."

In summary, our study of the statute and the facts of this case compels us to the conclusion that the Legislature intended by its inclusion of Section 477.9(e)(iii) in the Act that a claimant who receives proceeds under any contract of insurance as the result of a victim's injuries or death, whether the claimant is the insured or a beneficiary, should have his or her award reduced by the amount of such insurance proceeds.*fn2 This interpretation is compatible with the legislative

[ 46 Pa. Commw. Page 58]

    intent to compensate innocent victims of crime for economic losses sustained by them for which they receive no other compensation and would also result in equal treatment for all claimants who receive insurance payments, whether life, disability, or other type of coverage.

Accordingly, we make the following

Order

And Now, this 17th day of September, 1979, the decision of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board, dated April 5, 1978, to deny Dorothy Hoffman compensation is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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