Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.



decided: December 30, 1983.


No. 43 M.D. Appeal Dkt. 1983, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 151 Harrisburg, 1980, filed May 13, 1983, reversing the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County filed July 2, 1980, at No. 5994 S 1979


Richard H. Wix, Bernadette Barattini, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Neil J. Rovner, Harrisburg, for appellees.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Hutchinson, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 504 Pa. Page 170]


At issue in this appeal is whether pursuant to the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act*fn1 (No-Fault) an insured may have separate causes of action for personal injury and property damage arising out of the same negligent act. The facts are set forth below.

On December 24, 1977, appellees Spero A. Branoff, Sr. and Juditha Branoff were involved in a vehicular accident with appellant Stella Fitzpatrick, which resulted in property damage as well as personal injuries to Spero A. Branoff, Sr. In October of 1978, appellees brought an action in trespass for property damages only. Following an Arbitration Hearing appellees were awarded compensation for the fair market

[ 504 Pa. Page 171]

    value of their automobile. Payment in full was made and the trespass action was terminated.

On December 18, 1979, appellees instituted a second action in trespass arising out of the same accident, this time asserting a claim for personal injuries. Additionally, appellee, Juditha Branoff asserted a claim for loss of consortium. Appellees alleged that as a result of the injuries sustained, Spero Branoff, Sr. was unable to perform his employment on a continual basis from December 24, 1977, to approximately March 20, 1979.

Appellant filed Preliminary Objections to this second complaint citing appellees' failure to assert both their personal and property damage claims in the initial action. In July of 1980, the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County sustained the Preliminary Objections.

An appeal was taken to the Superior Court, 313 Pa. Super. 562, 460 A.2d 330, which reversed the order of the lower court and remanded the case for further disposition. The Superior Court reasoned that as a result of the Pennsylvania No-Fault Act, there now exists separate causes of action for personal injury and property damage and appellees were not obliged to join these claims in one petition. The Superior Court further noted that even if injured parties know that a no-fault threshold for their personal injuries has been reached before they institute their initial action for property damage, there is no requirement that they join the two claims. Appellant herein petitioned this court for review and we granted allocatur. After consideration, we reverse the decision of the Superior Court.

The holding of the Superior Court is based upon the erroneous assumption that the Pennsylvania No-Fault Act has eliminated the requirement that an individual who has sustained both property damage and personal injuries from the same tortious act, must simultaneously seek recovery. See Pa.R.Civ.Pro. 1044(a).*fn2

[ 504 Pa. Page 172]

The laws of this Commonwealth have long adhered to the principle that a cause of action for negligence cannot be split or divided. Spinelli v. Maxwell, 430 Pa. 478, 243 A.2d 425 (1968). This holding was articulated by Mr. Justice Jones in Spinelli when he stated:

When personal injuries to a person and damages to his property arise from the same cause and the same tortious act, the person who has sustained such personal injuries and property damage must seek recovery for both in a single action, and if separate actions are instituted for each category of damage and a judgment is rendered in one of such actions the entry of such judgment has the effect of res judicata and bars recovery in the other action. Such is the view of a substantial majority of jurisdictions in the United States and to this view Pennsylvania has long adhered. See Fields v. Philadelphia Transit Co., 273 Pa. 282, 117 A. 59 (1922); Fisher v. Hill, 368 Pa. 53, 81 A.2d 860 (1951); Saber v. Supplee Wills-Jones Milk Co., 181 Pa. Super. 167, 124 A.2d 620 (1956).

Id., 430 Pa. at 480-481, 243 A.2d at 427.

Although Spinelli was decided before the enactment of the No-Fault Act it continues to maintain its vitality, and can be reconciled with the Act. Pursuant to the No-Fault Act, specifically section 301,*fn3 tort liability is abolished for

[ 504 Pa. Page 173]

    personal injury unless certain monetary thresholds have been met. Also, tort liability still exists for property damage.

In the instant case, the automobile accident occurred on December 24, 1977. It was on this date that a cause of action for property damage arose. Under the No-Fault Act, a cause of action did not accrue for personal injuries until several months later, when the threshold had been met.*fn4 Regardless of that fact, however, both causes of action were mature well before the initial action for property damages was instituted. Thus, appellees were required to bring all their claims, and the failure to join both their property damages and personal injury actions bars the second action. Spinelli v. Maxwell, supra. This mandate is based on the doctrine of res judicata which provides that once a judgment is rendered, that judgment is conclusive between the parties with regard to all points of law directly related to the cause of action and affecting the matter before the court. Bearoff v. Bearoff Brothers, Inc., 458 Pa. 494, 498, 327 A.2d 72, 75 (1974); Philadelphia Electric Co. v. Borough of Lansdale, 283 Pa. Super. 378, 389, 424 A.2d 514, 519 (1981).

While this may seem a harsh result, it is even more unjust to permit defendants to be subjected to repeated suits, when it is possible to litigate all matters at one time. Finality of judgment is the end sought and adherence to the policy articulated above will produce that result. This is also in accord with the purpose of the No-Fault Act which is to reduce the quantity of litigation involving automobile accidents.

[ 504 Pa. Page 174]

There exists one caveat to this mandate, however. The requirement that an individual bring all his ripe claims simultaneously, does not preclude the institution of additional suits where the threshold for a personal injury action has not been reached at the time property damages claims are made. See Bond v. Gallen, 503 Pa. 286, 469 A.2d 556 (1983). If, at some later date, a personal injury claim arises the cause of action will not be barred. Such is not the case here, since the facts clearly demonstrate that appellees were aware of both their personal injury and property damage claims when they instituted their first suit.

In light of our disposition the Order of the Superior Court is reversed and the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County sustaining appellant's Preliminary Objections is reinstated.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.