No. 682 Pittsburgh, 1981, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division at No. A.D. 1980-1055.
Louis J. Stack, Meadville, for appellant.
John W. Beatty, Erie, for appellee.
Brosky, Cirillo and Popovich, JJ.
[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 45]
This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County granting a summary judgment to the appellee-United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company (U.S.F. & G.). We reverse.
The principle issue raised is whether appellant, the duly named administrator of the decedents' (his mother's and father's) estates, is entitled to the payment of "work loss" benefits to those estates pursuant to the provisions of the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act.*fn1 This issue was first dealt with in the appellate division of this Commonwealth in Freeze v. Donegal Mutual Insurance Co., 301 Pa. Super. 344, 447 A.2d 999 (1982), wherein the decedent's father, acting as administrator of his eleven-year-old son's estate, appealed the lower court's order denying the deceased's estate the right to collect "work loss" benefits under the No-fault Act. We reversed.
Instantly, after careful review of the statutory and case law on the subject, we are of the opinion that the lower court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of U.S.F. & G.; accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The facts are not in dispute. Leon and Marie Miller were fatally injured in an automobile accident occurring in Meadville, Pennsylvania, on August 12, 1978. At that time, both decedents were wage earners and were insured by the appellee, U.S.F. & G., in accordance with the No-fault Act.
Following the accident, the appellant applied for no-fault "work loss" benefits by submitting reasonable proof of the fact and amount of the work loss sustained by each decedent. U.S.F. & G. refused payment of the claim on the theory that "work loss" benefits are payable only to spouses or dependent relatives of deceased victims. In particular, appellee, in its Answer and New Matter, contended that the "Plaintiff Estates [were] not and d[id] not represent any
[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 46]
victims or survivors as defined in 40 P.S. Section 1009.103. The [appellee] further allege[d] that the Plaintiff Estates [were] not, and d[id] not represent any victims or survivors of a deceased victim which would be entitled to receive basic loss benefits or work loss benefits as defined in 40 P.S. Section 1009.201. Consequently, the [appellee] denie[d] that it owe[d] any benefits whatsoever, which it ha[d] not already paid, to the Plaintiff-[appellant]." The lower court, by Opinion and order entered June 18, 1981, granted appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment.
As stated supra, the crux of the case is whether the Legislature intended the personal representative of a decedent's estate to recover, under the No-fault Act, "work loss" benefits when there is no "survivor" of the decedent? Appellee's, U.S.F. & G.'s, contend that "work loss benefits are due and owing to estates of deceased victims only if the distributees of the estate are a spouse, or a dependent relative." (Appellee's Brief at 3) On the other hand, appellant asserts "all deceased victims are entitled to recover work loss benefits regardless of who asserts the claim. Proof of dependency by the personal representative forms no part of the calculation of the accrued economic detriment which work loss is designed to compensate." (Appellant's Brief at 6) The former view has been embraced by at least four different courts of common pleas,*fn2 while the latter position has been espoused by an equal number of courts of this Commonwealth.*fn3
[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 47]
Before deciding the question posed, it is necessary to set forth some of the definitional terms utilized in the No-fault Act which are germane to the case at bar, and then to review the manner in which such terms have been interpreted by the Courts. We begin with an examination of the right to basic loss benefits under the No-fault Act, which are paid to "any victim or any survivor of a deceased victim" if an accident resulting in injury to the victim (which encompasses bodily harm resulting in death -- 40 P.S. § 1009.103 (Supp. 1981-82)) occurs in this Commonwealth. 40 P.S. § 1009.201(a). Two types of basic loss benefits are "Work Loss" and "Survivors Losses":
"§ 1009.202 Basic loss benefits
(b) Work loss limits. -- Work loss, as defined in section 103 ...