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PRYOR v. FIREMAN'S FUND INS. CO.

April 26, 1982

William PRYOR, Plaintiff,
v.
FIREMAN'S FUND INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant. William PRYOR, Plaintiff, v. PENNSYLVANIA ASSIGNED CLAIMS PLAN, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL

These two cases arise out of the same set of facts and are before us on motions for judgment on the pleadings by the defendants. The facts are not in dispute. At issue is the effect of the choice of laws provision of the No-Fault Motor Vehicle Act of 1974, 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. §§ 1009.101-1009.701 (Purdon, 1980 Supp.), that is section 110(c) of the act, a section not yet addressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship and our task is to "apply" Pennsylvania law. 28 U.S.C. § 1652 (1979).

On January 30, 1979, the plaintiff, William Pryor, sustained injuries in an automobile accident while riding as a passenger in a pick-up truck owned and operated by Stephen E. Emerson, a New Jersey domiciliary. Mr. Emerson carried no insurance of any kind covering his vehicle. The accident occurred in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. The other vehicle was owned and operated by Barbara McQuiston. Ms. McQuiston had an automobile liability insurance policy written by the Nationwide Insurance Company which included a no-fault endorsement. The plaintiff was a Connecticut domiciliary and resided at his parents' house in that state. His father's insurance policy, written by the defendant in Civil Action No. 80-468, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, provided him with some coverage. The limits of that coverage are at issue here.

 Following the accident, Pryor filed three actions in this district court. First he filed suit against his father's insurance carrier, Pryor v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., Civil Action No. 80-468, claiming that he was entitled to benefits under the Pennsylvania No-Fault Act rather than those provided by Connecticut law. Later Pryor filed a tort action against the drivers of the two vehicles involved in the accident, Pryor v. McQuiston and Emerson, Civil Action No. 81-49. Finally he filed suit against McQuiston's insurer and the Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan (Pa.A.C.P.) Pryor v. Nationwide Insurance Company and Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan, Civil Action No. 81-162, claiming essentially that if Fireman's Fund did not owe Pryor the full Pennsylvania no-fault benefits, then either Nationwide or Pa.A.C.P. did. The Pa.A.C.P. was created to provide a source of last resort for basic loss benefits under the No-Fault Act. See 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. §§ 1009.108, 1009.204. On April 27, 1981 Judge Barron P. McCune of this court dismissed Nationwide from Civil Action No. 81-162 and consolidated the three cases before us.

 Pryor's claims against both Fireman's Fund and the Pa.A.C.P. are premised on the theory that someone owes him the no-fault benefits provided in the Pennsylvania Act. See 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. § 1009.202. This premise does not find support in the Act.

 The Pennsylvania No-Fault Act contains two choices of law provisions, one for determining the basic loss benefits available to the victim and another for determining the right of the victim to sue in tort. 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. § 1009.110(c) (hereafter § 110(c)).

 The first of these provisions governs our decision in the two cases here at issue and provides that:

 
The basic loss benefits available to any victim or to any survivor of a deceased victim shall be determined pursuant to the provisions of the state no-fault plan for motor vehicle insurance in effect in the state of domicile of the victim on the date when the motor vehicle accident resulting in injury occurs. If there is no such state no-fault plan in effect or if the victim is not domiciled in any state, then basic loss benefits available to any victim shall be determined pursuant to the provisions of the state no-fault plan for motor vehicle insurance, if any, in effect in the state in which the accident resulting in injury occurs.

 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. § 1009.110(c)(1).

 This rule seems to be quite clear; if the victim's home state has a no-fault plan, his basic loss benefits are determined by that plan; if the victim's home state lacks a no-fault plan, then he must look to the law of the state in which the accident occurred. Because the plaintiff had a Connecticut domicile at the time of the accident, we must first look to the law of that state and see if it contains a no-fault plan.

 The legislature has commanded that, "(w)hen the words of a law are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit." 46 Pa.Stat.Ann. § 551. The plaintiff argues that the choice of law provision of the no-fault act contains an ambiguity in that the phrase "no-fault plan" is not defined within the statute. The Pennsylvania Legislature has indeed chosen not to define the phrase "no-fault plan." The legislature has, however, defined both the term "no-fault benefits" and "no-fault insurance." *fn1" It strains credulity for us to believe that the legislature intended "no-fault plan" to mean anything more than a state statute creating system of "no-fault insurance" to provide "no-fault benefits." We perceive no ambiguity.

 Two separate panels of the Pennsylvania Superior Court have similarly concluded that § 110(c) is unambiguous. See Toter v. Knight, 278 Pa.Super. 547, 420 A.2d 676 (1980); DuBose v. McCoy, 277 Pa.Super. 149, 419 A.2d 705 (1980). Both cases involved plaintiffs domiciled in New Jersey who were injured in Pennsylvania. In both Toter and DuBose, the Superior Court unhesitatingly applied New Jersey law. While it is true that both Toter and DuBose were tort claims requiring a construction of § 110(c)(2), rather than the basic loss benefits rule under § 110(c)(1), both Superior Court panels treated the two provisions as so intertwined as to require a unitary construction. See Toter v. Knight, 420 A.2d at 679, DuBose v. McCoy, 219 A.2d at 706.

 The question then becomes whether or not the Connecticut statutory provision entitled "No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance," Conn.Gen.Stat. § 38-319 et seq. (1977), constitutes a no-fault plan within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Act's choice of laws provision, § 110(c).

 We believe that Connecticut's No-Fault Act, Conn.Gen.Stat. § 38-319 et seq., is indeed a "no-fault act" within the meaning of § 110(c)(1). The Connecticut Act is broadly similar to the Pennsylvania law and provides for "basic reparations", see Conn.Gen.Stat. §§ 38-319(a)(b), 320, 321, analogous to "basic loss benefits" in Pennsylvania, see 40 Pa.Stat.Ann. §§ 1009.103, 1009.202. In fact, although we believe that the phrase "no-fault plan" needs no further ...


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