No. 280 Philadelphia, 1981, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Philadelphia County, at No. 5524 October Term, 1979.
Lee M. Herman, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Joseph M. Hankins, Philadelphia, for appellee.
McEwen, Montemuro and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 310 Pa. Super. Page 13]
The sole issue on this appeal is whether an action brought by an insured to enforce an uninsured motorist coverage endorsement in a policy of insurance is governed by the two-year tort statute of limitations of 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5524(2) or by the six-year statute of limitations prescribed for contracts in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5527(2). This is a case of first impression in the appellate courts of this jurisdiction. We hold that the six-year statute of limitations governing actions on contracts is the proper limitation. An action by an insured against his automobile insurance carrier essentially sounds in contract rather than in tort, even where the insured is recovering for personal injuries sustained in an accident with an uninsured motorist.
The events giving rise to this appeal are as follows. On November 1, 1973, appellant, Gerard J. Boyle, was involved in an automobile accident with an uninsured driver. The parties agree that a policy of insurance was in effect between them and that it contained the uninsured motorist coverage endorsement which is required to be offered by statute, 40 P.S. § 2000.*fn1 On November 15, 1973, Boyle notified appellee, State Farm, of the accident and of the uninsured status of the other driver, but no further action was taken at this time by either party.
On November 1, 1979, Boyle, through counsel, filed a petition to compel appointment of arbitrator with the Court
[ 310 Pa. Super. Page 14]
of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, pursuant to a provision in the insurance policy that disputes regarding uninsured motorist coverage shall be referred to arbitration.*fn2 The court appointed an arbitrator and on January 10, 1980, an arbitration hearing was held at which time State Farm raised the defense of the statute of limitations, contending the two-year statute governing personal injury actions was applicable. On May 27, 1980, the arbitrator delivered an award in favor of Boyle in the amount of Fifty-five Hundred ($5,500.00) Dollars and also concluded that the claim was not barred by the statute of limitations.
Subsequently, State Farm filed a petition to modify or correct arbitration award with the Court of Common Pleas, pursuant to 5 P.S. § 171(d), alleging that the award was against the law because the two-year statute of limitations barred the insured's claim. The court ordered the award to be corrected to read "Award is hereby entered in favor of the defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company since this uninsured motorist's claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations." Judgment was entered in favor of State Farm. The court wrote no separate opinion, but referred generally to an opinion in a previous arbitration case, DiUmberto v. Merchants Mutual Insurance Co., American Arbitration Association Case 14 20 039968H (1969) (Kramer, Arb.). Boyle filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied and a timely appeal was taken to this court.
Initially, we note that since the arbitration proceedings and award were pursuant to the Act of 1927, our
[ 310 Pa. Super. Page 15]
review of the award is similar to that of a jury verdict. Every inference of fact must be drawn in favor of sustaining the award; however, mistakes of law may be rectified. Ben Construction Co., v. Sanitary Authority of the City of Duquesne, Allegheny County, 424 Pa. 40, 225 A.2d 886 (1967). It is equally true, however, that an appellate court is in no way bound by a trial court's conclusions of law based on findings of fact. First Pennsylvania Banking and Trust Co. v. Liberati, 282 Pa. Super. 198, 422 A.2d 1074 (1980). Where the facts are not in dispute, the question of whether the statute of limitations on a claim has run is a question of law for the court. Smith v. Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, 397 Pa. 134, 153 A.2d 477 (1959); Bickell v. Stein, 291 Pa. Super. 145, 435 A.2d ...