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GUS G. DAVIS AND CLARE DAVIS v. GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY (12/30/82)

decided: December 30, 1982.

GUS G. DAVIS AND CLARE DAVIS, APPELLANTS,
v.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY



No. 31 E.D. Appeal Docket, 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 1539 October Term, 1979, dated February 16, 1982, affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Trial Division, at No. 6553 April Term, 1979.

COUNSEL

Jerome M. Dubyn, Philadelphia, for appellant.

David M. McCormick, Philadelphia, Richard C. Angino, Harrisburg, for appellee.

Charles T. Roessing, Philadelphia, for Pa. Def. Institute.

O'Brien, C.j., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and McDermott, JJ. Hutchinson, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Flaherty, J., joins.

Author: Roberts

[ 500 Pa. Page 86]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Under Pennsylvania's Uninsured Motorist Coverage Law, Act of August 14, 1963, P.L. 909, § 1, as amended, 40 P.S. § 2000 (1971), all automobile insurance liability policies are required to include coverage for injuries to the insured which are caused by "uninsured" motorists. At issue on this appeal is whether a motorist who has the minimum amount of liability insurance required by Pennsylvania's financial responsibility law is nevertheless an "uninsured" motorist within the meaning of the statute whenever he causes an accident in which his insurance coverage is insufficient to indemnify the injured party for his losses.*fn1

I

The essential facts are uncontroverted. Appellant Gus Davis and his spouse Clare Davis sustained injuries when their automobile collided head-on with an automobile owned and driven by Michael McFadden.*fn2 McFadden, who admitted liability, was insured by Travelers Insurance Company under a liability policy of $35,000, an amount sufficient to meet the financial responsibility requirements contained in Pennsylvania's No Fault Act, Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, 40 P.S. § 1009.101 et seq. Pursuant to a settlement, Travelers paid $3,863 to the Davises for the damage to their automobile, $6,670 to Clare Davis in full settlement of her personal injury claim, and $24,467 (the balance of the $35,000) to appellant Gus Davis in partial settlement of his personal injury claim, which alleges damages in excess of $100,000.

At the time of the accident, appellant was insured by appellee Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) under a policy which provided coverage for three separate

[ 500 Pa. Page 87]

    vehicles. As required by law, appellant's policy included uninsured motorist coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident for each vehicle. The GEICO policy defined "uninsured automobile" as

"an automobile with respect to the ownership, maintenance or use of which there is, in at least the amounts specified by the financial responsibility law of the state in which the insured automobile is principally garaged, no bodily injury liability bond or insurance policy applicable at the time of the accident with respect to any person or organization legally responsible for the use of such automobile, or with respect to which there is a bodily injury liability bond or insurance policy applicable at the time of the accident but the company writing the same denies coverage thereunder . . ."*fn3

Appellant Gus Davis filed an uninsured motorist claim with appellee GEICO under the uninsured motorist provision of his own policy. Appellant's claim was based on the theory that, because his alleged damages ($100,000) exceeded his recovery from Travelers under the settlement agreement ($24,467), tortfeasor McFadden was an "uninsured" motorist. Appellant claimed that he was entitled to recover $20,533 from GEICO, the difference between the "stacked" value of his uninsured motorist coverage ($45,000), see State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co. v. Williams, 481 Pa. 130, 392 A.2d 281 (1978), and his recovery from Travelers. GEICO denied coverage on the ground that under the policy's definition of "uninsured automobile" there was no uninsured motorist involved in the accident.

Appellant's uninsured motorist claim proceeded to arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in appellant's policy.*fn4 A majority of a panel of three arbitrators held that,

[ 500 Pa. Page 88]

    because the tortfeasor maintained a policy of liability insurance in the minimum amount required by Pennsylvania law, appellant had not been injured by an uninsured motorist. Appellant filed a petition to vacate the arbitrators' award, alleging that the provision of the GEICO policy which defines uninsured automobile is contrary to the Uninsured Motorist Coverage Law. The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia denied appellant relief and the Superior Court affirmed. 296 Pa. Super. 198, 442 A.2d 727. We granted allowance of appeal, and now affirm.*fn5

II

Section 2000(a) of the Uninsured Motorist Coverage Law provides:

"No motor vehicle liability policy of insurance insuring against loss resulting from liability imposed by law for bodily injury or death suffered by any person arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this State with respect to any motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this State, unless coverage is provided therein or supplemental thereto in limits for bodily injury or death as are fixed from time to time by the General Assembly in section 1421 of article XIV of 'The Vehicle Code,' act of April 29, 1959 (P.L. 58), under provisions approved by the Insurance Commissioner, for the protection

[ 500 Pa. Page 89]

    of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death resulting therefrom."

Appellant contends that the Legislature intended the statutory language "uninsured motor vehicles" to encompass "underinsured motor vehicles," and that the GEICO policy thus fails to provide the coverage mandated by law. We do not agree.

The Statutory Construction Act of 1972 mandates that "[w]ords and phrases shall be construed according to rules of grammar and according to their common and approved usage . . . ." 1 Pa.C.S. § 1903(a). Notwithstanding appellant's assertion that "uninsured" is equivalent to "underinsured," the only common and approved meaning of the word "uninsured" is "having no insurance," whether the term applies to a house, a boat, a life, or, as here, a motor vehicle.

Appellant attempts to avoid the plain meaning of "uninsured" by arguing that the adoption of such a "literal" interpretation would frustrate the remedial objectives of the uninsured motorist law. While the uninsured motorist law is to be liberally construed to accomplish its stated objectives, see Harleysville Mut. Cas. Co. v. Blumling, 429 Pa. 389, 241 A.2d 112 (1968), it is inappropriate for this Court, under the guise of liberal construction, to enlarge the scope of the plain language of the uninsured motorist law by equating an uninsured motorist with one whose liability insurance meets statutory requirements but does not satisfy the injured party's claim. "When the words of a statute are free and clear from ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under ...


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