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LAVERNE R. MARTIN AND GEORGE MARTIN v. LARRY SOBLOTNEY (10/25/83)

decided: October 25, 1983.

LAVERNE R. MARTIN AND GEORGE MARTIN, HER HUSBAND, APPELLEES,
v.
LARRY SOBLOTNEY, APPELLANT



No. 48 W.D. Appeal Docket 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated Feb. 5, 1982, entered at No. 537 Pittsburgh 1980, affirming in part and reversing in part the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, dated May 9, 1980, entered at No. GD 77-06045. Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Nix

[ 502 Pa. Page 420]

OPINION

The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether medical bills incurred by a plaintiff injured in an automobile collision are admissible as evidence to measure pain and suffering in an action brought exclusively to recover for non-economic detriment pursuant to section 301 of the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act ("No-fault Act").*fn1 The Superior Court, reversing the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, held that such evidence was admissible. Having considered this question, we conclude that medical expenditures are clearly irrelevant to the determination of pain and suffering and thus inadmissible for that purpose. Accordingly, we reverse the portion of the order of the Superior Court reversing the trial court and reinstate the trial court's order.*fn2

I.

The parties to this appeal were involved in a two-car collision on State Highway 51 in Elizabeth Borough, Allegheny County, on January 2, 1977. Appellees LaVerne R. and George Martin sustained personal injuries in the collision, which occurred when the vehicle operated by appellant Larry Soblotney crossed over onto the Martins' side of the road. The Martins subsequently filed a trespass action against Soblotney under section 301(a)(5) of the No-fault Act, 40 P.S. § 1009.301(a)(5), seeking recovery for non-economic detriment. During trial, counsel for the Martins sought to introduce into evidence medical bills incurred by George Martin as a result of the accident. The trial court excluded the bills, noting counsel's exception. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court directed a verdict in favor

[ 502 Pa. Page 421]

    of George Martin on the issue of liability. The jury awarded him damages in the amount of Five Thousand ($5,000) Dollars, but made no award to LaVerne Martin.

Following denial of their post-trial motions, both Martins appealed to the Superior Court. That court affirmed the judgment as to LaVerne Martin. Martin v. Soblotney, 296 Pa. Super. 145, 442 A.2d 700 (1982). As to George Martin, the Superior Court, concluding that the excluded medical bills were admissible to prove pain and suffering, reversed the order of the trial court denying his motion for a new trial, vacated the judgment in his favor and remanded for further proceedings. Id. This Court granted Soblotney's petition for allowance of appeal from that portion of the Superior Court's determination.

II.

An understanding of the changes wrought by the No-fault Act upon the traditional automobile-related trespass action is crucial to our decision in this matter. Prior to the enactment of the No-fault Act, an individual injured in an automobile accident could maintain an action to recover both general damages, such as pain and suffering, and special damages, such as medical expenses, loss of wages or services and impairment of earning capacity. Medical bills were admissible at trial to prove an element of special damages, namely the expense of treating the injury, provided the plaintiff established that the charges were reasonable and the services necessary and related to the injuries for which recovery was sought. See Piwoz v. Iannacone, 406 Pa. 588, 178 A.2d 707 (1962).

The No-fault Act provided for a compulsory insurance system under which motor vehicle accident victims are compensated for economic losses on a first-party basis irrespective of fault. That Act abolished tort liability for economic losses arising from a motor vehicle accident to the extent that such damages were compensated by the No-fault insurer. See 40 P.S. § 1009.301(a) (Supp.1983-84). The cause of action for non-economic damages arising from a motor vehicle

[ 502 Pa. Page 422]

    accident was preserved only where one of four conditions was satisfied.*fn3 Here, the cause of action for non-economic damages was limited to a recovery for pain and suffering; the medical bills had been paid under the basic loss provisions of the No-fault Act. The issue to be decided, therefore, is whether the medical bills proffered on George ...


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