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HAROLD DAVID TALLMAN v. AETNA CASUALTY AND SURETY COMPANY (04/06/88)

filed: April 6, 1988.

HAROLD DAVID TALLMAN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF IRENE B. TALLMAN, DECEASED, APPELLEE,
v.
AETNA CASUALTY AND SURETY COMPANY, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment entered July 9, 1987, Court of Common Pleas, Lycoming County, Civil Division at No. 87-00189.

COUNSEL

Darryl R. Slimak, State College, for appellant.

William Carlucci, Williamsport, for appellee.

Olszewski, Del Sole and Johnson, JJ. Johnson, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Del Sole

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 594]

Today we are asked to determine whether a provision in an automobile insurance policy which prohibits the stacking of underinsurance coverage where multiple vehicles are insured under the policy should be declared invalid as contrary to the public policy expressed in the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 1701 et seq. We affirm the trial court's ruling which determined that such a provision is void as violative of public policy.

The instant action was commenced by Appellee, administrator of the estate of his deceased wife, following a two car automobile accident. The decedent who was operating a Renault automobile suffered fatal injuries when a vehicle driven by another individual crossed the center line and collided with her vehicle. The limits of a policy issued to the other driver, $95,613.00 were received by Appellee. Since Appellee's damages exceeded this figure, a declaratory judgment action was brought against Appellant who had issued a policy of insurance to the decedent as a named insured which covered both the Renault automobile and a Chevrolet pick-up truck. The policy contained a maximum liability limit of $100,000.00 and a maximum limit of liability for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage of $35,000.00. Because the policy issued by Appellant provided coverage for two vehicles Appellee sought to "stack" the underinsurance coverage to recover $70,000.00. Appellee averred that the loss suffered exceeded the combined total of liability limits received from the other driver's insured and the $70,000.00 of underinsurance coverage sought under the policy issued by Appellant. However, in determining whether such coverage should be obtained the trial court was presented with certain limitations contained in the amendments to the policy. The following provision was found under "Part C. Uninsured Motorists Coverage", "Limit of Liability" "B.":

If a single limit of liability for bodily injury liability is shown in the Declarations for this coverage, this is our maximum limit of liability for all damages for bodily

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 595]

    injury resulting from any one auto accident. We will apply this limit to provide any separate limits required by law for Uninsured and Underinsured motorist coverage. However, this provision will not change our total limit of liability.

Paragraph "C.2." further provided:

With respect to damages caused by the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle, the applicable limit of liability under paragraph A or B above is the most we will pay regardless of the number of covered persons, claims made, vehicles or premiums shown in the Declarations, or vehicles involved in the accident.

Judgment was entered for Appellee after the court determined that the above provisions, which purport to prohibit stacking of underinsurance coverage for multiple vehicles insured under one policy, were invalid as violative of the public policy expressed in the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, hereinafter the MVFRL.

The task of interpreting a policy of insurance is designed so as to effectuate the intent of the parties to the contract as manifested by the language contained in the written document. Language found in the contract which is clear and unambiguous must be enforced unless such provision violates public policy. Votedian v. General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation, 330 Pa. Super. 13, 16-17, 478 A.2d 1324, 1326 (1984), citing Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Insurance Co., 503 Pa. 300, 306, 469 A.2d 563, 566 (1983). The clarity or ambiguity of the instant policy provisions which disallow the stacking of underinsurance coverage are not at issue in this case. We are only asked to determine whether these provisions are repugnant to the policy underlying the MVFRL. Since a specific statement of findings and purpose is not contained within the MVFRL, we must be guided by the established rules set forth in the Statutory Construction Act, 1 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 1501 et seq. This Act declares that the intention of the General Assembly is to be ascertained and effectuated when interpreting a statute. 1 Pa.C.S.

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 596]

§ 1921(a). Words of a statute which are clear and free from ambiguity are not to be disregarded. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(b). And where words are not explicit, this court is to consider, among other matters, the following so as to ascertain the intent of the General Assembly:

(1) The occasion and necessity for the statute;

(2) The circumstances under which it was enacted;

(3) The mischief to be remedied;

(4) The object to be attained;

(5) The former law, if any, including other statutes upon the same or similar subjects;

(6) The consequences of a particular ...


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