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TIMOTHY W. DENGLER v. DONALD J. CRISMAN (06/04/86)

submitted: June 4, 1986.

TIMOTHY W. DENGLER, A MINOR BY JOAN K. DENGLER, HIS MOTHER
v.
DONALD J. CRISMAN, JEAN H. CRISMAN AND NEAL B. CRISMAN, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Judgment entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Civil Division, No. 494 of 1984

COUNSEL

Rabe F. Marsh, III, Greensburg, for appellants.

Vincent J. Quatrini, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Greensburg, for appellees.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Tamilia and Popovich, JJ.

Author: Tamilia

[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 160]

Timothy W. Dengler, minor/appellee, was injured in an automobile accident on January 28, 1982, when he ran out into the highway, against the traffic signal, and was struck by a vehicle operated by Donald J. Crisman. His mother, appellee Joan K. Dengler, commenced suit on his behalf against appellants on January 25, 1984. After a writ of summons was issued,*fn1 but before a complaint was filed, appellees filed, inter alia, a Petition to Enforce Settlement alleging that a settlement agreement had been reached between appellees and the appellants' insurance carrier, the Hartford Insurance Co., in the amount of $10,000.

Appellants filed an Answer to the Petition alleging that since appellees had failed to accept the offer of settlement within the prescribed time, the settlement offer made by the Hartford Company had been withdrawn. Appellants further contended that a settlement of the action could not be enforced because Mrs. Dengler, as a parent, had no authority to bind the estate of her minor son absent prior court approval, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 2039.

On November 26, 1984, a hearing was held before Judge Daniel J. Ackerman wherein evidence was submitted on the matters raised in the aforementioned Petition and Answer. The lower court determined that: (1) on April 1, 1984, an agreement was entered into by appellees and the Hartford Company to settle appellee's claim for $10,000 and (2) between the date of the agreement and prior to the submission

[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 161]

    of the matter to the court for approval, the Hartford Company rescinded.

The court then instructed the parties to submit briefs on the issue of whether the Hartford Company had the legal right to rescind the agreement.

On January 22, 1985, the lower court entered an Order wherein it found the agreement was not voidable by the Hartford Company prior to approval of the settlement by the court. Accordingly, the court granted appellee's petition to enforce the settlement and directed her to submit a petition pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 2039. An immediate appeal was taken from the court's Order but was quashed as interlocutory by this Court's Per Curiam Order of April 30, 1985. See Dengler v. Crisman, No. 241 Pittsburgh, 1985. Thereafter, by Order dated September 19, 1985, the lower court approved the compromise and settlement of the minor's claim in the amount of $10,000.

The instant appeal was then taken from the October 22, 1985 judgment entered on the January 22, 1985 Order and the October 17, 1985 judgment entered on the September 19, 1985 Order.

The thrust of appellants' first argument is that until the court gives approval to a settlement, any prior agreement as to a settlement figure formed by the parties is voidable at the election of either party. The compromise or settlement of a minor's action is governed, in part, by Pa.R.C.P. 2039, which provides that, "[n]o action to which a minor is a party shall be compromised, settled, or discontinued except after approval by the court pursuant to a petition presented by the guardian of the minor." Pa.R.C.P. 2039(a). Unquestionably, the purpose of Rule 2039 is to protect the rights of minors in the settlement of their claims and, accordingly, "[t]he court is given wide discretion in such cases, subject to the primary interest of protecting the minor." Wilson v. Bensalem ...


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