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EDWARD L. GEISLER AND EDWARD J. GEISLER v. MOTORISTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY (03/16/89)

filed: March 16, 1989.

EDWARD L. GEISLER AND EDWARD J. GEISLER
v.
MOTORISTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment entered on August 18, 1987 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD87-9553

COUNSEL

Ronald J. Rademacher, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert N. Peirce, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellees.

Cavanaugh, Tamilia and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 624]

This appeal is from the judgment resulting from the trial court's orders denying appellant's petition to correct, modify, or vacate the arbitrators' award, and confirming the arbitration award. Appellant contends that the trial court erred in confirming the award because the arbitration panel committed errors of law in (1) allowing appellees to stack coverages under their insurance policy; and (2) improperly applying the "set off" provision of the policy. For the reasons that follow, we hold that the trial court and arbitrators properly allowed appellees to stack coverages, but that, under the set off provision, the award to appellee Edward J. Geisler should have been reduced to $89,413.62. As modified, the judgment is affirmed.

This action arose out of a claim for benefits under a policy of insurance held by appellees. On July 21, 1983, appellee Edward L. Geisler and his son, appellee Edward J. Geisler, suffered injuries as a result of an automobile accident with a car driven by Daniel Schillinger. Appellees

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 625]

    settled their suit against Schillinger, receiving a total of $35,000 from Schillinger's insurer. This amount was the maximum limit of liability coverage under Schillinger's policy. Appellees then filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits against their own insurer, appellant, Motorists Mutual Insurance Company. Appellant denied the claim and, pursuant to the terms of the policy, the matter proceeded to arbitration.

The arbitrators heard evidence and, on May 26, 1987 entered a $160,000 award in favor of appellees, with $60,000 payable to appellee Edward L. Geisler and $100,000 payable to appellee Edward J. Geisler. Thereafter, appellees filed a petition to confirm the arbitration award, and appellant filed a petition to correct, modify or vacate the award. On August 5, 1987, the court below denied the petition to correct, modify, or vacate the award, and entered an order confirming the arbitration award. On August 18, 1987, judgment was entered on the trial court order, and this timely appeal followed.

I.

We begin with our standard of review. The insurance policy issued by appellant provided that if either party demanded arbitration to resolve a dispute involving uninsured motorist coverage, the "[a]rbitration shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Pennsylvania Arbitration Act of 1927." See Insurance Agreement Endorsement/Amendment, R.R. at 11a. The Arbitration Act of 1927 was repealed and replaced by the Act of 1980 (codified at 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 7301-7362). We note, however, that the Historical Note to the 1980 Act provides that agreements "which expressly provid[e] for arbitration pursuant to the former provisions of the Act of April 25, 1927 . . ., relating to statutory arbitration" shall be governed by the "contrary to law" standard of review contained in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7302(d)(2). Act of 1980, Oct. 5, P.L. 693, No. 142 (codified as the Historical Note to 42 Pa. C.S.A.

[ 382 Pa. Super. Page 626]

§ 7302(d)(2)). Thus, under § 7302(d)(2), a reviewing court may,

     modify or correct the award where the award is contrary to law and is such that had it been a verdict of a jury the court would have entered a different judgment or judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Id. See also Selected Risks Ins. Co. v. Thompson, 363 Pa. Super. 34, 37, 525 A.2d 411, 412 (1987), rev'd in part and aff'd in part on other grounds, 520 Pa. 130, 552 A.2d 1382 (1989); Ragin v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 315 Pa. Super. 179, 184-85, 461 A.2d 856, 858-59 (1983).

II.

We turn now to the merits of appellant's underlying contentions. The principles governing interpretation of a policy of insurance are well-settled. The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law that is properly reviewable by the court. Winters v. Erie Ins. Group, 367 Pa. Super. 253, 257, 532 A.2d 885, 887 (1987). See also Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Contrisciane, 504 Pa. 328, 334, 473 A.2d 1005, 1008 (1984); Timbrook v. Foremost Ins. Co., 324 Pa. Super. 384, 388, 471 A.2d 891, 893 (1984). In construing the policy, we are mindful that "[p]olicy clauses providing coverage are interpreted in a manner which affords the greatest possible protection to the insured . . . . The insured's reasonable expectations are the focal point in reading the contract language." Winters v. Erie Ins. Group, supra 367 Pa. Super. at 257-58, 532 A.2d at 887 (citations omitted). Our object, as is true in interpreting any contract,

     is, of course, to ascertain the intent of the parties as manifested by the language of the written instrument . . . . Where a provision of a policy is ambiguous, the policy provision is to be construed in favor of the insured and against the insurer, the drafter of the agreement . . . . Where, however, the language of ...


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