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TWILA J. MITCHELL v. TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY AND PUBLIC SERVICE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY. APPEAL PUBLIC SERVICE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY (10/11/89)

decided: October 11, 1989.

TWILA J. MITCHELL, MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF CARL R. MITCHELL, A MINOR,
v.
TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY AND PUBLIC SERVICE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY. APPEAL OF PUBLIC SERVICE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY



Appeal from the Order dated March 16, 1988, by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania at No. 552 Pittsburgh, 1987, reversing the Order, dated April 15, 1987, and entered on April 22, 1987, by the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Civil Division, at No. 1984-3163 Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Stout, Former Justice, did not participate in the decision of this matter. Papadakos, J., dissents.

Author: Zappala

[ 522 Pa. Page 547]

OPINION

On March 24, 1983, Carl Mitchell was struck by a motorcycle while crossing an alley in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The motorcycle was owned by Louis Wattman and operated by Michael Wattman. At the time of the accident, the motorcycle was insured by Appellant, Public Service Mutual Insurance (PSMI). Carl Mitchell, a minor, was uninsured and was not covered by any insurance policy providing no-fault benefits.

The minor's mother and natural guardian, Twila J. Mitchell, brought an action on his behalf to recover basic loss benefits against PSMI, as the insurer of the motorcycle, and Appellee, Travelers Insurance Company (Travelers), the designated carrier under the Assigned Claims Plan, asserting that either PSMI or Travelers was the carrier responsible for the payment of no-fault benefits. Both PSMI and Travelers denied liability, alleging that the other was the primary obligor and applicable source of security for the

[ 522 Pa. Page 548]

    payment of basic loss benefits. PSMI also asserted claims for contribution and indemnity against Travelers.*fn1

Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed by PSMI and Travelers seeking a determination of which carrier was liable for payment of basic loss benefits. The trial court entered an order denying both motions. Following PSMI's and Travelers' requests for reconsideration of that order, the trial court entered subsequent orders denying Travelers' motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment in favor of PSMI.

Travelers filed an appeal from the order granting summary judgment to PSMI. The plaintiff did not appeal. The Superior Court reversed, holding that PSMI was the applicable security for payment of the no-fault benefits. 372 Pa. Super. 105, 538 A.2d 1372 (1988). The matter was remanded for further proceedings to resolve the issue of the effect of a general release of PSMI executed by the plaintiff. We granted the petition for allowance of appeal of PSMI and now affirm the order of the Superior Court.

PSMI presents two issues for our review. First, whether Travelers had standing to appeal from the trial court's order granting summary judgment to PSMI. Second, whether the insurer of a motorcycle or the Assigned Claims Plan carrier is required to pay basic loss benefits pursuant to the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act when an uninsured pedestrian is struck and injured by a motorcycle.*fn2

PSMI contends that Travelers lacked standing to appeal from the final order granting summary judgment in its favor and dismissing the plaintiff's claims against it. PSMI characterizes Travelers as nothing more than an "officious intermeddler." The Superior Court's determination

[ 522 Pa. Page 549]

    that Travelers had standing is challenged on the basis that Travelers was not an aggrieved party affected by the trial court's ruling.

PSMI's arguments ignore the No-Fault Act's hierarchical structure establishing the applicable source of no-fault benefits and the nature of the plaintiff's claim. As the Superior Court recognized, the only real issue raised by the plaintiff was which of the two insurance carriers was required to pay the basic loss benefits. The plaintiff's complaint identified PSMI and Travelers as the two potential alternate sources of those benefits. The plaintiff's primary interest was in recovering those benefits, not in identifying which carrier was ultimately responsible for payment.

The responsibility for payment was disputed by the carriers themselves, with each pointing to the other as the responsible party. The issue that is the subject of the litigation required the lower courts to determine as a matter of law whether PSMI or Travelers was responsible. By holding that PSMI was entitled to summary judgment and that Travelers was not, the order granting summary judgment necessarily resolved the issue of Traveler's liability as well as that of PSMI.

PSMI asserts that the Superior Court erroneously relied upon this Court's decisions in East Broad Top Transit Co. v. Flood, 326 Pa. 353, 192 A. 401 (1937) and Schwartz v. Jaffe, 324 Pa. 324, 188 A. 295 (1936), and its own case of Carollo v. Forty-Eight Insulation, Inc., 252 Pa. Super. 422, 381 A.2d 990 (1977). PSMI attempts to distinguish those cases on the basis that they involved tort claims brought against multiple defendants with claims for indemnity and contribution. The cases cited by the Superior Court are not distinguishable on that basis.

In Schwartz, supra, we stated,

As the question to be decided where a plaintiff sues more than one defendant is the liability to the plaintiff of one or more of the defendants, they should be put on equal terms concerning that liability, and the one on whom ...


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