Surety Co., 372 Pa. Super. 593, 539 A.2d 1354 (1988), appeal denied, 520 Pa. 607, 553 A.2d 969 (1988). For these reasons, the court is unpersuaded that one could sensibly construe the parties' agreement to provide $ 2,000,000 of liability coverage. The plain language of the policy unambiguously limits all coverage to $ 1,000,000.
The court must next determine whether, given the $ 1,000,000 liability coverage limit, plaintiff may nonetheless stack uninsured motorist coverage on the two automobiles insured under the excess policy. The controlling statute in this regard is the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1701 et seq. ("the MVFRL"). Neither the MVFRL nor its predecessors, the No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act
and the Uninsured Motorist Act,
refer directly to the propriety of stacking uninsured and underinsured coverage. As a result, the courts have been forced to determine how the purpose and policy of the various acts relate to the stacking issue.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court first addressed the issue in 1968 when it struck down policy clauses prohibiting the stacking of uninsured motorist benefits. In Harleysville Mutual Casualty Co. v. Blumling, 429 Pa. 389, 241 A.2d 112 (1968), the court held that such anti-stacking clauses, by failing to provide adequate protection to innocent victims of irresponsible drivers, violated public policy and the legislative intent behind the uninsured motorist statute. Later, in holding that all intended beneficiaries of an insurance policy were entitled to stack coverage, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reiterated that stacking furthered the goal of the legislature to provide protection to innocent victims. Utica Mutual Insurance Company v. Contrisciane, 504 Pa. 328, 338, 473 A.2d 1005, 1010 (1984).
An issue left unaddressed by earlier opinions, however, is when, if ever, contractual proscriptions against stacking are permissible. Against this backdrop, the General Assembly enacted the MVFRL. The basic provisions dealing with uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are found in Subchapter C of the statute, §§ 1731-1736. Section 1731 sets general minimum requirements for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage for a motor vehicle equal to the minimum amount of liability coverage required under the statute. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1731(a).
The section also notes, in language parallelling that of the Uninsured Motorist Act, that a major purpose of the MVFRL is to provide protection to innocent persons injured by uninsured or underinsured drivers. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1731(c).
Sections 1734 and 1736 delineate the extent of this protection. Section 1734 allows an insured to elect uninsured and underinsured coverage in amounts less than the insured's liability coverage, provided that this coverage does not fall below the minimum requirements of §§ 1702 and 1731. Section 1736, however, states that an insured who purchases liability coverage in excess of the minimum amount required by the MVFRL may obtain uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in an amount equal to, but not greater than, the amount of liability coverage. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1736 (emphasis added). Thus, the plain language of § 1736 undercuts plaintiff's argument by setting limits on the amount of recoverable uninsured benefits.
Permitting individuals to stack uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage beyond that of liability coverage would be inconsistent with § 1736 and undermine the purpose behind it. The legislature's intent in enacting § 1736 was to "prevent the new insurance system from degenerating into a purely first-party insurance system, where each driver [was] insured against his or her own loss, but no driver insure[d] against the damage he or she may do to others." J. Ronca, L. Sloane & J. Mundy, An Analysis of the Financial Responsibility Law 104, § 6:11 (1986). As the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently noted in discussing this section:
The legislature has thus prevented an insured from providing greater coverage, via uninsured/underinsured coverages, for himself and his additional insureds than the amount of coverage he provides for others injured through his negligence.
Wolgemuth v. Harleysville Mutual Insurance Co., 370 Pa. Super. 51, 55 n. 3, 535 A.2d 1145 (1988) (en banc).
Acceptance of plaintiff's argument would permit individuals effectively to orchestrate coverage to provide adequately for their own loss but not that of potential victims of their negligence. Thus, an individual with four cars could obtain $ 120,000 of protection for himself while only bearing responsibility for $ 30,000 in damages to others. The legislature reasonably could not have intended to permit by means of stacking what it forbade by means of purchasing coverage directly.
The question of whether § 1736 limits the extent of permissible stacking to the insured's limit of liability has yet to be directly addressed by a Pennsylvania appellate court. However, the recent decisions in Tallman, supra, and Wolgemuth, supra, support a finding that § 1736 does place such limits on stacking. The court notes that, while not binding, these decisions do provide guidance on how the state's highest court would rule. See Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 759 F.2d 271, 273-74 (3d Cir. 1985) ("Federal courts must attribute significant weight to [lower state court] decisions in the absence of any indication that the highest state court would rule otherwise."); Adams v. Cuyler, 592 F.2d 720, 725 n. 5 (3d Cir. 1979) ("Federal courts are not bound to, but may consider the pronouncements of state intermediate appellate courts as an indication of how the state's highest court would rule."), aff'd, 449 U.S. 433, 101 S. Ct. 703, 66 L. Ed. 2d 641 (1981).
In Wolgemuth, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, sitting en banc, held that an injured guest passenger in a single vehicle accident could not recover under both the liability and underinsured coverages of the vehicle owner's policy. In holding against double recovery, the Superior Court emphasized the limit set in § 1736 when discussing the general provisions of the MVFRL:
An insured who purchases liability coverage in an amount greater than the minimum amount required by the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law may obtain uninsured and underinsured coverages in amounts equal to, but not greater than, the amount of his liability coverage.