Appeal from the Order of the court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD 83-04593.
Joseph M. Zoffer, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Bradley Dornish, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Brosky, Wieand and Lederer, JJ.*fn* Wieand, J., files a dissenting statement.
[ 348 Pa. Super. Page 44]
This appeal is from an order denying class certification. We conclude, inter alia, that the trial court erred in holding that precedent establishing liability is inconsistent with class status. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for the case to proceed as a class action.
Facts and Procedural History
Appellant, Julia A. Cambanis, is the administratrix of the estate of Louis Cambanis, her deceased husband. The decedent was struck by a motor vehicle operated by an insured of Nationwide Insurance Company, appellee. As a result, Louis Cambanis died two days later. At the time of his death he was 85 years old, retired and receiving Social Security benefits. The accident was covered, at least in part, by the provisions of Pennsylvania's No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, No. 176, 40 P.S. § 1009.101 et seq.*fn1 Nationwide has paid survivor's loss, funeral and medical expense benefits to appellant.
Appellant submitted a claim for No-Fault work loss benefits, 40 P.S. §§ 1009.201, 202(b); and appellee denied liability for such benefits. Appellant then filed a complaint against appellee on behalf of the estate of her deceased husband and as representative of the class of all others who had been similarly wrongfully denied No-Fault work loss benefits. A hearing on the propriety of class certification was held, following which an opinion and order denying class certification were entered.*fn2
[ 348 Pa. Super. Page 45]
In Janicik, this Court explained the rationale for the low burden of proof.
[T]he stage of proceedings at which the class certification is to be initially determined and the trial court's extensive supervisory powers over class actions obviate the need for a strict burden of proof. A court may not make the initial class action determination until after the close of the pleadings to ensure that the class proponent is presenting a non-frivolous claim capable of surviving preliminary objections. Pa.R.Civ.P. 1707 . . . . Throughout the class action, the court has extensive powers to protect absent members and to ensure efficient conduct of the action. See, e.g., Pa.R.Civ.P. 1710 (subclasses and limiting issues); 1713 (conduct of actions); 1714 (approving settlements); 1716 (approving counsel fees) . . . . The court may alter, modify, or revoke the certification if later developments in the litigation reveal that some prerequisite to certification is not satisfied. Pa.R.Civ.P. 1710, 1711 . . . .
Janicik, supra, 305 Pa. Super. at 129, 451 A.2d at 455. (Citations omitted).
The opinion states that all prerequisites for certification but one were met. The trial court did not find that a class action would be a "fair and efficient method of adjudication," the last of the five prerequisites enumerated in Pa.R.Civ.P. 1702(5).*fn5
[ 348 Pa. Super. Page 47]
As the trial court saw it, liability on the part of appellee was a foregone conclusion. This followed from its interpretation of the 1983 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Freeze v. Donegal Mutual Insurance Co., 504 Pa. 218, 470 A.2d 958 (1983). According to the trial court Freeze pronounced liability on the part of the insurance company to pay work loss benefits to estates such as appellant's. The trial court then concluded that "[t]he issue in this case is not one of liability." This was seen to reduce the issues in the case to one, damages. As ...