The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON
The plaintiff, a citizen of Pennsylvania, commenced this action against the defendant, a New York corporation, on February 2, 1983, invoking this court's jurisdiction over diversity cases. The plaintiff seeks disability benefits allegedly due and owing to him by virtue of an accident insurance policy issued by the defendant.
On October 17, 1983, the defendant filed a motion, asking the court to declare that the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia would govern in the above-captioned matter. This court, in an Order dated November 2, 1983, directed the parties to file briefs demonstrating that the choice of law question would have an effect upon the disposition of this case. See Document 20 of the Record. Both parties have filed their briefs. In addition, the plaintiff filed a cross motion, seeking a declaration that Pennsylvania law governs. These matters are now ripe for disposition.
For the reasons set forth below, the court holds that the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia governs in the above-captioned case.
The following facts appear to be undisputed:
From 1965 until March 1971, the plaintiff was employed by Moore Business Forms, Inc. (Moore) in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. In March 1971, the plaintiff began working for Moore in Fredricksburg, Virginia. Accordingly, the plaintiff moved his family from Honesdale to Fredricksburg. The insurance policy in issue, a group plan procured by Moore for its employees, went into effect on April 1, 1975, while the plaintiff was living and working in Virginia. The policy was filed with the appropriate state agencies in Virginia and in New York, the defendant's principal place of business. The policy subsequently was amended to provide for permanent total disability coverage. This endorsement was dated April 1, 1980. On that date, the plaintiff was still living and working in Virginia.
The plaintiff stopped working on July 17, 1980 and his employment with Moore officially ceased on January 13, 1981. The plaintiff subsequently left Virginia and returned to Honesdale, where he now resides.
According to the plaintiff, he was injured in Virginia during the course of his employment with Moore on July 17, 1980, when he slipped on some debris and "twisted" his back. See Deposition of Plaintiff, Transcript at 31-32, Document 19 of the Record. Because this "illness [allegedly] is of a continuing nature resulting in total disability as described in the subject policy," see Complaint para. 6, Document 1 of the Record, the plaintiff claims that the defendant is obligated to pay benefits under the group plan. The defendant asserts that the plaintiff's back problem is the result of a lower back ailment which originated many years before the policy was written and was exacerbated by a severe automobile accident occurring in 1979. See Defendant's Brief at 3, Document 24 of the Record. Citing a policy provision which states that the claimed disability must result "directly and independently of all other causes from bodily injuries caused by accident occurring while [the] policy is in force," id. at 2, the defendant asserts that the plaintiff's disability is not covered under the policy, see id. at 3-4.
The defendant asserts, inter alia, that the choice of law question is significant in this case because the Commonwealth of Virginia has not yet endorsed a rule akin to that enunciated by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Hionis v. Northern Mutual Insurance Co., 230 Pa.Super. 511, 327 A.2d 363 (1974). If Virginia law applies, the defendant asserts, certain issues involving the Hionis rule will not be reached in this case. Recently, however, in Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Ins. Co., 503 Pa. 300, 469 A.2d 563 (Pa., 1983), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stated:
We believe that the burden imposed by Hionis fails to accord proper significance to the written contract, which has historically been the true test of parties' intentions. By focusing on what was and what was not said at the time of contract formation rather than on the parties' writing, Hionis makes the question of the scope of insurance coverage in any given case depend upon how a factfinder resolves questions of credibility. Such a process, apart from the obvious uncertainty of its results, unnecessarily delays the resolution of controversy, adding only unwanted costs to the cost of procuring insurance. Thus, ...