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JOHN G. FREEZE v. DONEGAL MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY (12/30/83)

decided: December 30, 1983.

JOHN G. FREEZE, JR., ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN GOSS FREEZE, III, DECEASED, APPELLEE,
v.
DONEGAL MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT



No. 38 M.D. Appeal Dkt. 1982, On Appeal from the Judgment of the Superior Court at No. 234 March Term, 1978, reversing and remanding the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Civil Action - Law, No. 77 S 1725, Roberts, C.j., and Larsen,*fn* Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. McDermott and Zappala, JJ., join in this opinion. Flaherty, J., joins in this opinion and filed a concurring opinion. Roberts, C.j., filed a dissenting opinion in which Hutchinson, J., joined. Hutchinson, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Roberts, C.j., joined. Nix, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Larsen

[ 504 Pa. Page 220]

OPINION

This is the latest in a parade of cases coming before us for interpretative review of the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act (No Fault Act).*fn1 The single issue presented in this appeal is: Whether the Estate of a deceased victim is entitled to receive work loss benefits*fn2 under the provisions of the No-fault Act. The Superior

[ 504 Pa. Page 221]

Court held that a deceased victim's estate is entitled to work loss benefits.*fn3 We agree and therefore affirm.

On January 14, 1977, John Goss Freeze, III, a minor child of eleven years of age, while riding a sled near his home in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, was fatally injured when he was struck by an automobile. At the time of his accidental death, the minor-decedent was an insured under a no-fault automobile insurance policy issued by appellant, Donegal Mutual Insurance Company.*fn4 Subsequently, the minor decedent's father, John G. Freeze, Jr. (Appellee) was duly appointed administrator of the minor-decedent's estate. Appellee applied to the appellant for payment of no-fault wage loss benefits. Appellant Donegal refused to pay the claim. Appellee instituted a complaint in assumpsit against appellant Donegal seeking to recover work loss benefits pursuant to the policy of insurance and the Pennsylvania No-fault Insurance Act. The appellant filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer asserting that under the Pennsylvania No-fault Act, work loss benefits are not provided for an eleven year old minor who has not entered the labor market prior to his death. The lower court agreed and sustained appellant's demurrer. The court also, sua sponte, granted appellee leave to amend his complaint to seek survivor's benefits and funeral expenses. The appellee chose not to amend and filed an appeal. The Superior Court reversed the lower court decision and held that the estate of a deceased victim is entitled to recover work loss benefits under the No-fault Act.*fn5 Appellant filed a petition for allowance of appeal which we granted.

[ 504 Pa. Page 222]

Appellant argues that our opinion and decision in Allstate v. Heffner, 491 Pa. 447, 421 A.2d 629 (1980) restricts recovery of work loss benefits to those who are "survivors" of a deceased victim, and an estate is not a survivor within the meaning of the No-fault Act.*fn6

In Heffner, it was decided that the right to work loss benefits is not terminated by the demise of a victim. We held that "survivors" of deceased victims are entitled to payment of these benefits under the terms of the No-fault Act. It follows then that, if work loss benefits do not terminate upon the death of a deceased victim, absent a statutory bar those benefits are recoverable by the deceased victim's estate. This is the natural, logical and compelling extension of our holding in Heffner. Upon a close and careful examination of the No-fault Act, we find no language which precludes the recovery of work loss benefits to the estate of a deceased victim.

We previously have noted*fn7 that the declared purpose of the No-fault Act, as set forth in its preamble is: "the maximum feasible restoration of all individuals injured and compensation of the economic losses of the survivors of all individuals killed in motor vehicle accidents on Commonwealth

[ 504 Pa. Page 223]

    highways . . ."*fn8 Our approach in interpreting the No-fault Act, has been to consistently apply the rule of liberal construction mandated by the Statutory Construction Act.*fn9 We also have presumed that the legislature intended to favor the public interest over any private interest.*fn10 This has meant that in close or doubtful insurance cases we have found coverage for the insured. Further, this has meant that if we should err in ascertaining the intent of the legislature or the meaning of an insurance policy provision, we should err in favor of coverage for the insured. Allstate v. Heffner, supra.

In support of the argument that only "survivors" are entitled to the wage loss benefits of a deceased victim, the appellant points to the No-fault Act and Section 201(a) which provides:

If the accident resulting in injury occurs in this Commonwealth, any victim or any survivor of a deceased victim is entitled to receive basic loss benefits in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

Appellant argues that the language, " any victim or any survivor of a deceased victim is entitled to recover basic loss benefits," demonstrates the legislative intent that only survivors of a deceased victim and not the estate may receive wage loss benefits. Apparently, this is because the estate of a deceased victim is not specifically mentioned.

The appellant's argument, however, overlooks the very basic and fundamental fact that a person who dies as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident is, within the ...


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