APPEAL FROM THE ORDER ENTERED MAY 28 1987 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, CIVIL NO. 3361 SEPTEMBER TERM, 1985.
Stephen J. Greenfield, Philadelphia, for appellant.
T. Kevin Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Cirillo, President Judge, and Olszewski and Johnson, JJ.
This is an appeal from an order of the Honorable Charles A. Lord of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County awarding a verdict in favor of appellee Erie Insurance Company (Erie) in appellant Gregory Allen's suit to recover first-party benefits under the Motor Vehicle Financial
Responsibility Law (the Act), 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 1701-1798, following an automobile accident.
Allen was operating a vehicle owned by Linda Walker when it was involved in an accident. The Walker vehicle was insured by Erie, and the policy in effect at the time of the accident provided for first-party benefits in the form of payment of medical bills and lost wages pursuant to the Act. Erie denied Allen's claim on the grounds, contained in section 1714 of the Act,*fn1 that at the time of the accident Allen was the owner of an uninsured, registered vehicle. Allen was the owner of a 1968 Pontiac Firebird which had been inoperable for some six or seven months before the accident. Allen had maintained the registration on the Firebird because he hoped to return the car to running order. He had, however, allowed the insurance on the vehicle to lapse.
Allen brought suit to recover first-party benefits from Erie alleging his eligibility for such payment from Ms. Walker's insurance company under section 1713(a)(3) of the Act.*fn2 The matter went to trial and resulted in a verdict for Erie. Allen appeals that verdict to this court.
This case presents an issue of law of first impression for this court. There is, however, an excellent court of common pleas opinion addressing the constitutionality of section 1714 on equal protection grounds which we find helpful in the disposition of this appeal. In Mowrey v. Prudential Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 37 Cumb.L.J. 180 (Pa.C.P., Jan. 13, 1987), the Honorable Edgar J. Bayley ruled that application of section 1714 to deny first-party benefits was not unconstitutional where the plaintiff, injured as a passenger in a vehicle insured by Prudential, was the owner of a registered but uninsured vehicle. The plaintiff in that case argued that section 1714 did not set forth a rational basis for her exclusion from first-party benefits because she still would have been entitled to recovery under section 1713(a)(3) if her vehicle were uninsured as long as it was unregistered. Judge Bayley concluded "that the Legislature could properly determine that the potential risk to the financial stability of the insurance system of an operator actually driving an uninsured registered vehicle, was far greater than the potential risk of an operator driving an uninsured unregistered vehicle." 37 Cumb.L.J. at 186-87. He reasoned that "[a] system of mandatory financial responsibility in reference to rights of recovery under section 1714, related only to the use of a vehicle, would be virtually impossible to enforce." Id. at 187.
We believe Judge Bayley's opinion to be a sound and well-reasoned discussion of the section of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law at issue in the instant appeal. Like the plaintiff in Mowrey, Allen argues that he should be allowed to recover under section 1713(a)(3) regardless of the registration of a ...