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LOUIS GOEBEL AND HELEN GOEBEL v. HARTFORD ACCIDENT AND INDEMNITY COMPANY (03/18/83)

filed: March 18, 1983.

LOUIS GOEBEL AND HELEN GOEBEL, HIS WIFE, APPELLANTS,
v.
HARTFORD ACCIDENT AND INDEMNITY COMPANY



No. 931 Pittsburgh, 1981, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Action, of Washington County, Equity No. 7820, Book 45, Page 143.

COUNSEL

Robert D. Beck, Washington, for appellants.

Stephen Paul McCloskey, Washington, for appellee.

Rowley, Montemuro and Van der Voort, JJ.

Author: Rowley

[ 312 Pa. Super. Page 17]

This case presents another question of first impression under the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act.*fn1 The question raised is whether § 205(d) of the No-Fault Act, 40 P.S. § 1009.205(d) (Supp.1982-83), permits a claimant to recover increased work loss benefits from his no-fault carrier based upon increases in the minimum wage required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.*fn2 The trial court sustained appellee's preliminary objection in the

[ 312 Pa. Super. Page 18]

    nature of a demurrer and dismissed appellants' complaint. We reverse.

On appeals sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, we accept as true the well-pleaded averments of fact contained in the complaint. Zelik v. Daily News Publishing Co., 288 Pa. Super. 277, 431 A.2d 1046 (1981). Upon inspection, the complaint reveals the following facts.

On December 20, 1978, appellant Louis Goebel was struck by an automobile as he walked along Jefferson Avenue in Washington, Pennsylvania. As a result of this accident, Mr. Goebel suffered the fracture of both legs and his skull as well as other severe injuries. At the time of the accident, Mr. Goebel worked an average of 53 hours per month as a custodian for the Farm Credit Associations. He was paid at the then prevailing minimum wage of $2.65 an hour. The accident rendered Mr. Goebel permanently and totally disabled; he will never be able to return to gainful employment of any kind. Appellee, Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, the Goebels' no-fault carrier, has thus far paid all hospital and medical expenses incurred due to the accident.

The dispute concerns the precise amount of work loss benefits to be paid Mr. Goebel under the No-Fault Act. Hartford commenced paying work loss benefits sometime during 1979 after Mr. Goebel's disability was determined to be permanent.*fn3 At that time, Hartford paid $153.70 per month based upon Mr. Goebel's average of 53 hours of work per month at the 1979 minimum wage of $2.90 an hour.*fn4 When, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the minimum wage rose to $3.10 an hour in 1980 and to $3.35 an

[ 312 Pa. Super. Page 19]

    hour in 1981, Mr. Goebel demanded a concomitant increase in his work loss benefits. Hartford refused and Mr. and Mrs. Goebel filed a complaint in equity seeking, 1) an injunction against Hartford's continued refusal to pay the increased amounts, 2) payment of benefits allegedly past due and owing, 3) statutory interest of eighteen percent per annum,*fn5 and 4) attorney's fees.*fn6 As mentioned above, Hartford filed a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer which the trial court sustained. The court ruled that appellants had no cause of action for increased benefits. The court therefore also found that appellants had no right to an injunction, interest or attorney's fees. The court dismissed the complaint and appellants appealed challenging each of the trial court's conclusions.

Initially, we note that we can discover no legal basis upon which Mrs. Goebel can recover. Only Mr. Goebel was injured and Hartford owes any benefits due under the policy of insurance to him. Therefore, the trial court was correct that, as to Mrs. Goebel, "on whose behalf no claim seems to be made," this complaint should be dismissed.

With respect to Mr. Goebel, however, we face a different situation. Appellants rely on the phrase "absent a showing that it [probable annual income] is or would be some other amount" contained in § 205(d). Appellants assert that this language permits them to claim increased work loss benefits from their no-fault carrier when an event, in this instance an increase in the minimum wage, subsequent to the original calculation of their benefits allegedly alters the amount of money the victim would have received had he continued to work. The trial court characterized this argument as "specious" and stated that "[i]f the [General Assembly] had intended to provide for indexing this loss to the cost of living, they could have done so. They didn't." That court also relied upon the speculative nature of the future relations between Mr. Goebel and his employer:

[ 312 Pa. Super. Page 20]

We have no way of knowing that Mr. Goebel's employer would have let him continue working 53 hours per month. The 53 hours a month may have been arrived at to fit the employer's budget for money allocated to custodial services . . . .

Additionally, the court opined that "it doesn't make much difference [because] . . . in 8.04 years [appellant] will get it all [the $15,000 statutory maximum work loss benefits*fn7] anyhow."

This discussion is off the point. The issue is not so broad as indexing to the cost of living. Nor is the court's consideration of a question of fact, the amount of time Mr. Goebel would have worked for his employer under the new wage structure, entirely appropriate in the present procedural posture or pertinent to the question before us. We must here discern the meaning and effect of a given statutory phrase. Because this phrase is not defined in the No-Fault Act, we turn to the Statutory Construction Act*fn8 and other sources for guidance.

We begin with the proposition that we are "to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly," giving full effect, if possible, to each provision in the statute before us. 1 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 1921(a), 1922(2). See also, Allstate Ins. Co. v. Heffner, 491 Pa. 447, 421 A.2d 629 (1980). The General Assembly is presumed not to have intended any result which is absurd or unreasonable. 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1922(3). The words and phrases used in legislation are to be construed "according to their common and accepted usage" with technical words to be given ...


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