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JUDY BAKER v. PENNSYLVANIA NATIONAL MUTUAL CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY (06/05/89)

decided: June 5, 1989.

JUDY BAKER, APPELLANT,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA NATIONAL MUTUAL CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania Entered on December 14, 1987, at No. 1358 Pittsburgh, 1986, Reversing the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Civil Division, Entered on September 25, 1986, at No. 1984-1876. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. McDermott, J., files an Opinion In Support of Affirmance joined by Nix, C.j., and Zappala, J. Larsen, J., files an Opinion In Support of Reversal joined by Flaherty and Papadakos, JJ.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 522 Pa. Page 81]

The court being equally divided, the decision of the Superior Court, 370 Pa. Super. 461, 536 A.2d 1357, is affirmed.

Opinion IN SUPPORT OF AFFIRMANCE

McDERMOTT, Justice.

If the issue in this case required an interpretation of the law of defamation or the applicability of punitive damages in such actions, I would not participate.*fn* The issue here, however is not such, rather the question is the bearing of irrelevant evidence upon the fairness of a trial. The appellant originally brought an action for Breach of Contract and Defamation. The trial began and evidence was offered on both claims after which the appellant withdrew her action

[ 522 Pa. Page 82]

    for defamation. Before the appellant withdrew her defamation claim, evidence of net worth of the appellees was put before the jury. Since there remained no claim for defamation, there was therefore no claim upon which such evidence might be relevant. I cannot but believe, under the hostile claims and defenses in this case, that the appellee was not injured by that evidence. Therefore, I would order a new trial.

Opinion IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL

ROLF LARSEN, Justice

The present controversy arose from the denial of Appellant Judy Baker's claim for "theft loss" under her homeowner's insurance policy issued by Appellee, Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company (Penn National). The pertinent facts of the case are as follows. Sometime between May 21 and May 24 of 1982, while Baker was visiting friends in Berlin, Pennsylvania, vandals broke into her home located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The vandals ransacked the home stealing numerous items, including, almost all of Baker's home appliances, several pieces of furniture and personal belongings such as tools, clothing, and guns.

Baker submitted her claim for "theft loss" with Penn National on August 2, 1982 in accordance with the terms of her homeowner's insurance policy. After nearly two years of delay in investigating, Penn National denied Baker's claim on February 15, 1984. The reasons for denial were: that Baker falsely declared that the loss resulted from a theft when in fact she knew that no break-in had occurred; that Baker falsely claimed that certain property was stolen when in fact it was not; and that Baker misrepresented the value of the certain items claimed to be stolen.

Thereafter, on June 15, 1984, Baker filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas, Cambria County, alleging breach of contract. ...


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