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JOHN ANTANOVICH AND NELLIE ANTANOVICH v. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY (02/20/85)

decided: February 20, 1985.

JOHN ANTANOVICH AND NELLIE ANTANOVICH, CO-ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF GARY LEE ANTANOVICH, DECEASED, APPELLANTS,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE. CYNTHIA BRENDLINGER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF KENNETH BRENDLINGER, AND AS NATURAL GUARDIAN OF TRACI BRENDLINGER, JODIE BRENDLINGER AND LONNIE BRENDLINGER; AND TRACI BRENDLINGER, JODIE BRENDLINGER AND LONNIE BRENDLINGER, INDIVIDUALLY, APPELLANTS, V. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE. JOHN ANTANOVICH AND NELLIE ANTANOVICH, CO-ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF GARY LEE ANTANOVICH, DECEASED V. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE. APPEAL OF PENNSYLVANIA TRIAL LAWYERS ASSOCIATION. GERALD ALAN WILSON, ADMINISTRATOR, C.T.A. OF THE ESTATE OF ELEANOR D. WILSON, DECEASED; AND LOUIS D. WILSON, AS SURVIVING SPOUSE ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER SURVIVORS OF ELEANOR D. WILSON, DECEASED, APPELLANTS, V. KEYSTONE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE



No. 17 W.D. Appeal Docket 1984, Appeal from Order of Superior Court of Pennsylvania Docketed to No. 1230 Pittsburgh 1982 Dated October 14, 1983 Reversing and Remanding Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Civil at No. 299 June Term 1981, 320 Pa. Superior Ct. 322, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. McDermott, J., joins in this opinion and files a concurring opinion. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Zappala, J., joins.

Author: Hutchinson

[ 507 Pa. Page 70]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Before us are three appeals by allowance*fn1 from orders of Superior Court. In Antanovich v. Allstate Insurance Company, 320 Pa. Superior Ct. 322, 467 A.2d 345 (1983), Superior Court en banc affirmed the judgment of Washington County Court of Common Pleas denying appellants' claim to stack basic loss benefits payable under Section 202 of the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, No. 176, 40 P.S. § 1009.101-1009.701,

[ 507 Pa. Page 71]

    since repealed.*fn2 In Brendlinger v. Allstate Insurance Company, 320 Pa. Superior Ct. 322, 467 A.2d 345, (1983), Superior Court reversed the judgment of Westmoreland County Common Pleas directing the payment of multiple basic loss benefits and in the third case, Wilson v. Keystone Insurance Company, 321 Pa. Superior Ct. 495, 468 A.2d 818 (1983), a panel of Superior Court vacated the judgment of Philadelphia Common Pleas on the basis of the en banc disposition of Antanovich and Brendlinger. All three cases were remanded for recomputation of benefits.

In each of these cases, appellants have claimed amounts in excess of the statutory coverage required by the No-fault Act for work loss based on their purchase of automobile insurance policies and payment of premiums covering the risk of such loss from operation of several automobiles which they or their decedents owned.*fn3 They argue that the

[ 507 Pa. Page 72]

    payment of a basic premium for insurance on one vehicle entitles them to the work loss benefits required by law.*fn4 From this major premise they ask us to infer that the payment of additional premiums for coverage of the two to four other cars which they, or their decedents, owned entitles them to basic work loss benefits in spite of their insurance contracts' prohibitions against such multiple recovery. In support of this reasoning they refer to one of the introductory legislative "findings" in the No-fault Act's preamble:

(a) Findings. -- The General Assembly hereby finds and declares that:

(3) 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 highways, in intrastate commerce, and in activity affecting intrastate commerce is essential to the humane and purposeful functioning of commerce;

40 P.S. § 1009.102(a).

Appellants claim that this finding states a policy which precludes any contractual prohibition of multiple work loss benefits whenever several cars are insured. The findings in this section of the preamble are, however, prefatory to the "purposes" of the Act. Those purposes are stated in Subsection (b):

(b) Purposes. -- Therefore, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the General Assembly to establish at reasonable cost to the purchaser of insurance, a Statewide system of prompt and adequate basic loss benefits for motor vehicle accident victims and the survivors of deceased victims.

40 P.S. § 1009.102(b). Reading together the particular finding and the Act's purpose we do not believe they articulate appellants' theory enough to overcome a plain unambiguous

[ 507 Pa. Page 73]

    contract provision on the ground of policy. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of Superior Court.

Appellants' arguments in support of "stacking" were fully and vigorously presented to the Superior Court en banc. In that court Judge (now President Judge) Spaeth, writing for the majority, summarized the opposing arguments:

The Antanovichs and Brendlingers do not argue that the Allstate policy is ambiguous, or that Allstate in some way misled them. Cf. Collister v. Nationwide Life Insurance Co., 479 Pa. 579, 388 A.2d 1346 (1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1089 [99 S.Ct. 871, 59 L.Ed.2d 55] (1979); Habecker v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 299 Pa. Super. 463, 445 A.2d 1222 (1982); Adelman v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 255 Pa. Super. 116, 386 A.2d 535 (1978); Barth v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 214 Pa. Super. 434, 257 A.2d 671 (1969). Instead, they admit, as they must, that the policy clearly prohibits stacking. They argue, however, that this prohibition should be declared invalid as contrary to the No-fault Act. They acknowledge their inability to point to any provision of the Act explicitly providing that a policy may not prohibit stacking. Moreover, it is evident that the Insurance Commissioner is of the view that a policy that prohibits stacking is not contrary to the Act, for the Commissioner has approved the Allstate policy. See 31 Pa.Code § 66.101. However, even though the Commissioner has expert knowledge, to which a court must defer, Feingold v. Bell of Pennsylvania, 477 Pa. 1, 383 A.2d 791 (1977), he has on occasion issued invalid regulations, United Services Auto Ass'n Appeal, 227 Pa. Super. 508, 323 A.2d 737 (1974), and the position of the Antanovichs and Brendlingers is that here he has issued invalid regulations. While no provision of the No-fault Act explicitly provides that a policy may not prohibit stacking, neither does any provision explicitly provide that a policy may prohibit stacking. This being so, the Antanovichs and Brendlingers argue, we must consider the public policy

[ 507 Pa. Page 74]

    underlying the Act. In their view, a proper understanding of that public policy leads to the conclusion that an insurance policy such as Allstate's may not prohibit stacking.

Allstate generally agrees with this definition of the issue, but in its view, a proper understanding of the public policy underlying the No-fault Act leads to the conclusion that stacking is prohibited by the Act, and that therefore its insurance policy is valid.

Antanovich, supra, 320 Pa. Superior Ct. at 326-27, 467 A.2d at 347-48.

After examining the findings and purposes in Section 102 of the No-fault Act, 40 P.S. § 1009.102, Superior Court proceeded to set forth and analyze the Act's relevant substantive provisions:

The owner of each vehicle registered in Pennsylvania is required to provide security (either by insurance or otherwise) for the payment of basic loss benefits. 40 P.S. § 1009.104. If an accident resulting in injury occurs, the victim or the survivor of a deceased victim "is entitled to receive basic loss benefits in accordance with the provisions of this act." Id. § 1009.201(a). The "obligor providing security for the payment of basic loss benefits" is required to pay such benefits "without regard to fault to each individual entitled thereto, pursuant to the terms and conditions of this act." Id. § 1009.111(b).

We have already briefly indicated, at the beginning of this part of our opinion, what are the several different items included within "basic loss benefits." To state them more fully, they are as provided in Sections 202 and 103 of the Act:

§ 1009.202 Basic loss benefits

(a) Allowable expense limits. -- Allowable expense, as defined in section 103 of this act shall be provided or the equivalent in the form of a contract to provide for services required.

(b) Work loss limits. -- Work loss, as defined in section 103 shall be provided:

[ 507 Pa. Page 75]

(1) up to a monthly maximum of:

(A) one thousand dollars ($1,000) multiplied by a fraction whose numerator is the average per capita income in this Commonwealth and whose denominator is the average per capita income in the United States, according to the latest ...


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