Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of York County at No. 77 S 3437.
George F. Douglas, Jr., Carlisle, for appellant.
William C. Gierasch, Jr., York, for appellee.
Wickersham, Watkins and Hester, JJ.
[ 340 Pa. Super. Page 421]
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company [hereinafter referred to as "State Farm"] appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County finding that the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner's Regulations are not void as contrary to legislative intent; that Maryland's no-fault statute does not qualify as a "state
[ 340 Pa. Super. Page 422]
no-fault plan" under the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner's Regulations; and that appellee Jerold Wingeart is entitled to proceed against State Farm for no-fault benefits under Pennsylvania's No-fault Act. Jerold Wingeart cross appeals from the court's partial denial of counsel fees.
The facts in the case at bar are neither contested nor complicated. The decedent, John Jerold Wingeart, a single man with no dependents, was domiciled in Parkton, Maryland. On May 18, 1976, while a passenger in a car operated by Suzanne M. Garrett and owned by her mother, he was killed in a one-car accident in York County, Pennsylvania. On December 6, 1977, decedent's father and administrator, Jerold D. Wingeart, filed a complaint in York County seeking $15,000 in anticipated work loss under the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act. Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, No. 176, art. I; 40 P.S. §§ 1009.101-.701. State Farm filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer contending that the estate of a single person who left no dependents was not entitled to such work loss benefits. The York County Court of Common Pleas sustained State Farm's demurrer and dismissed the administrator's complaint. The administrator appealed to the superior court and requested that action on the appeal be suspended pending decision in Heffner v. Allstate Insurance Co., 265 Pa. Super. 181, 401 A.2d 1160 (1979), aff'd, Allstate Insurance Co. v. Heffner, 491 Pa. 447, 421 A.2d 629 (1980). Heffner established that survivors of deceased victims of vehicular accidents are entitled to recover work loss benefits. After Heffner was decided, State Farm still refused to pay work loss benefits, contending on appeal before the superior court that (1) despite Heffner, a decedent's estate is not a "survivor" and, therefore, not entitled to recover work loss benefits under the No-fault Act and (2) in any event, the estate is only entitled to those benefits available under the law of the state of decedent's domicile, Maryland. In Wingeart v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 302 Pa. Super. 524, 449 A.2d 40 (1982), this court rejected State Farm's first argument based on the decision in Freeze v. Donegal Mutual Insurance Co., 301 Pa. Super. 344,
[ 340 Pa. Super. Page 423447]
A.2d 999 (1982), aff'd, 504 Pa. 218, 470 A.2d 958 (1983). Freeze held that the estate of a deceased victim is a "survivor" as contemplated by the No-fault Act and is entitled to recover work loss benefits. The court refused to address State Farm's second contention because it was not raised in preliminary objections and was not considered by the trial court. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
State Farm then raised this "conflicts of law" issue -- whether appellee's only remedy was under Maryland law and not under the Pennsylvania statute -- in the instant declaratory judgment action. Section 110(c)(1) of the Pennsylvania No-fault Act provides that the no-fault benefits available to a victim or a deceased victim who was domiciled in another state with a no-fault plan, would be paid in accordance with the state of domicile's no-fault plan. If the state of domicile does not have a no-fault plan in effect, then the benefits are paid by the state in which the accident occurred. 40 P.S. § 1009.110(c)(1). Instantly, the lower court found that the Maryland No-fault Statute, 5A Annotated Code of Maryland, Art. 48A § 542, does not qualify as a state no-fault plan under Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner's Regulations, and therefore, appellee's rights are governed by the Pennsylvania No-fault Act. The lower court also found that since State Farm originally rejected appellee's claim solely on the ground that work loss ...