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GALEN H. WOLGEMUTH v. HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL INSURANCE CO. AND ROSS J. SPERA AND QUENTIN RIDING CLUB (01/11/88)

filed: January 11, 1988.

GALEN H. WOLGEMUTH, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF GAIL M. WOLGEMUTH, APPELLANT, AND TODD W. HUMMEL, APPELLEE,
v.
HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL INSURANCE CO. AND ROSS J. SPERA AND QUENTIN RIDING CLUB, ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE, OHIO CASUALTY INSURANCE CO. AND AETNA LIFE & CASUALTY COMPANY, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Judgment entered July 18, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, Civil No. 85-01223 and 85-01508.

COUNSEL

Kenneth C. Sandoe, Myerstown, for appellant.

Alexander Kerr, Philadelphia, for Harleysville, appellee.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Brosky, Rowley, Wieand, McEwen, Olszewski, Beck, Tamilia and Johnson, JJ.

Author: Mcewen

[ 370 Pa. Super. Page 53]

We here provide en banc review of whether a guest passenger, who is a covered person under the terms of a policy of motor vehicle insurance applicable to the host vehicle, and who is injured in a single vehicle accident, may recover underinsurance benefits under the policy of insurance applicable to the host vehicle, when that passenger has already received the limits of the liability coverage under that same policy.

This declaratory judgment action was commenced by appellant, Galen H. Wolgemuth, as administrator of the estate of Gail M. Wolgemuth, to determine whether Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company had properly denied appellant's claim for underinsurance benefits on the grounds that the policy issued by appellee Harleysville precluded such a claim on the behalf of the estate of Gail M. Wolgemuth. The trial court determined that the policy did preclude such a claim and that the terms of the policy did not violate either the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 1701 et seq., or public policy. Appellant has taken this appeal from the entry of summary judgment in favor of appellee Harleysville. We affirm.

Gail M. Wolgemuth and Todd W. Hummel were passengers in a vehicle owned and operated by Ross J. Spera when the automobile was involved in a single vehicle accident,

[ 370 Pa. Super. Page 54]

    resulting in the death of Gail M. Wolgemuth.*fn1 Appellee Harleysville had issued a policy of automobile insurance to Ross J. Spera which provided liability coverage in the amount of $100,000.00 as well as uninsured/underinsured motorist coverages each in the amount of $100,000.00. Harleysville paid the full amount of the liability coverage to appellant, but denied the claim for underinsurance benefits on the ground that the claim was precluded by the terms of the policy which provided that the insured vehicle could not be an "underinsured motor vehicle" for purposes of determining entitlement to underinsured motorist benefits.

Appellant concedes that the express terms of the policy itself preclude recovery of underinsured benefits by the estate of Gail M. Wolgemuth, but argues that the policy definition of "underinsured motor vehicle" is void as violative of public policy, and is, as well, contrary to the express provisions as well as the intent of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 1701 et seq.

As a result of the enactment of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, every motor vehicle liability insurance policy issued in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must provide underinsured motorist coverage. Section 1731 of the Act provides, inter alia:

§ 1731. Scope and amount of coverage

(a) General rule. -- No motor vehicle liability insurance policy shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this Commonwealth, with respect to any motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this Commonwealth, unless uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverages are provided therein or supplemental thereto in amounts equal to the bodily injury liability coverage except as provided in section 1734 (relating to request for lower or higher limits of coverage).

[ 370 Pa. Super. Page 55]

We will pay damages which a covered person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle or underinsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury:

1. Sustained by a covered person; and

2. Caused by an accident.

" Covered person " as used in this endorsement means:

1. You and any family member.

2. Any other person occupying your ...


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