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DOROTHY ELLIS v. SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY ET AL. SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY (SEPTA) (05/23/88)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: May 23, 1988.

DOROTHY ELLIS
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY ET AL. SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY (SEPTA), APPELLANT

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in the case of Dorothy Ellis v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Harleysville Insurance Company and Keystone Insurance Company, No. 4913 August Term, 1986.

COUNSEL

Steven M. Liero, with him, Leslie Dias, Stephen Dittman and Norman Hegge, for appellant.

John T. Quinn, for appellee.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges McGinley and Smith, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 300]

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) appeals a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court order granting Harleysville Insurance Company's (Harleysville) summary judgment motion. We reverse and remand.

Dorothy Ellis was injured when the SEPTA trolley in which she was a passenger collided with two automobiles in Philadelphia. Ellis sought first-party benefits*fn1 under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (Financial Responsibility Law)*fn2 from Harleysville -- insurer of one of the automobiles. Harleysville, in turn, filed a defendant's complaint against SEPTA and the insurer of the second auto.

SEPTA and Harleysville filed stipulated facts and motions for summary judgment. The common pleas court granted Harleysville's summary judgment motion and directed SEPTA to compensate Ellis because she

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 301]

    was an uninsured passenger.*fn3 The common pleas court concluded that trolleys are "motor vehicles" under the purview of the Financial Responsibility Law based on Rogers v. SEPTA, 356 Pa. Superior Ct. 432, 514 A.2d 936 (1986).

In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, our scope of review is limited to determining whether the common pleas court committed an error of law or abused its discretion. Farley v. Township of Upper Darby, 100 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 535, 514 A.2d 1023 (1986). Summary judgment is only proper when, after examining the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant clearly establishes that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Kuehner v. Parsons, 107 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 61, 527 A.2d 627 (1987).

SEPTA argues that the common pleas court erroneously termed its trolley a motor vehicle and, therefore, it is not liable under the Financial Responsibility Law. SEPTA distinguishes Rogers, arguing that it involved a trackless trolley, while the path of the streetcar here was controlled by rails. We agree.

Section 1711 of the Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa. C. S. ยง 1711, provides:

An insurer issuing or delivering liability insurance policies covering any motor vehicle of the type required to be registered under this title, except recreational vehicles not intended for highway use, motorcycles, motor-driven cycles or motorized pedalcycles or like type vehicles, registered and operated in this Commonwealth,

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 302]

    shall include coverage providing a medical benefit in the amount of $10,000, an income loss benefit up to a monthly maximum of $1,000 up to a maximum benefit of $5,000 and a funeral benefit in the amount of $1,500, as defined in section 1712 (relating to availability of benefits), with respect to injury arising out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.

(Emphasis added.)

The term "motor vehicle" is not defined in the Financial Responsibility Law. However, Section 102 of the Vehicle Code (Code),*fn4 defines "motor vehicle" as "a vehicle which is self-propelled except one which is propelled solely by human power or by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated on rails." (Emphasis added.) Both parties understandably argue contrary interpretations of this provision. However, Section 102 also defines "vehicle" as "every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon rails or tracks." (Emphasis added.) Thus, when examined together, the applicable statutes exclude rail trolleys from the definition of motor vehicle.

Harleysville, however, maintains that Rogers controls because a SEPTA trackless trolley -- in essence, an electric bus -- was deemed to be "more similar to vehicles that are registered under the Vehicle Code . . . than to those that are not." Rogers, 356 Pa. Superior Ct. at 434, 514 A.2d at 937. Herein, the trolley was a streetcar. It rode only on rails and was not subject to typical road surface hazards and, thus, its maneuverability

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 303]

    was restricted. Moreover, Harleysville fails to cite any authority, and we have not been able to discover any support for the proposition that streetcars are required to be registered under the Vehicle Code.

Therefore, because the applicable statutes do not include a trolley/streetcar as a motor vehicle for purposes of imposing liability under the Financial Responsibility Law,*fn5 we reverse the common pleas court order granting Harleysville's motion for summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Order

The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court order, No. 4913 August Term, 1986, dated May 1, 1987, directing summary judgment against SEPTA is reversed. This case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Jurisdiction relinquished.

Disposition

Reversed and remanded.


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