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AUSTIN v. DIONNE

December 7, 1995

JOSEPH and MARY AUSTIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARLES DIONNE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBRENO

 EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

 DECEMBER 7, 1995

 Plaintiff Joseph Austin ("Austin") is a New Jersey resident employed by Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., ("PNI") in Pennsylvania. He was injured in an automobile accident in Pennsylvania while on personal business. As a result of the accident, Austin sought lost wages through his automobile insurance policy and through supplemental payments for wage benefits under his PNI disability insurance policy.

 On the other hand, plaintiffs contend that New Jersey law applies in this case, and that, under New Jersey law, double recovery is permitted in cases involving automobile accidents. Furthermore, plaintiffs argue that, even if Pennsylvania rather than New Jersey law applies, ERISA preempts Pennsylvania law because Austin's benefits have been paid pursuant to a self-funded disability insurance policy provided by PNI under a collective bargaining agreement. Finally, plaintiffs contend that, under ERISA, unlike Pennsylvania law, Austin is entitled to collect from more than one source.

 The Court finds that, under Pennsylvania's choice of law rules, Pennsylvania law applies to the interpretation of first party payments under plaintiffs' PIP automobile insurance policy, as well as the employer's disability insurance policy. In addition, the Court concludes that ERISA does not preempt the Pennsylvania law barring double recovery. Under the facts of this case, Pennsylvania law neither interferes with nor regulates a claim by or against the PNI disability insurance policy operating under ERISA.

 I

 The following facts are undisputed. Plaintiffs Joseph and Mary Austin are New Jersey residents. Austin is employed as a pressman at the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the time of the accident, Dionne was a resident of Pennsylvania.

 On February 10, 1993, at approximately 4:45 p.m., Austin was proceeding south on Interstate Route 95 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in his pick-up truck. At the same time, Dionne was travelling south on Interstate Route 95 in his own vehicle. Dionne's car collided with the back of Austin's truck, causing Austin to suffer soft tissue injuries to his neck and back.

 Following the accident, Austin missed approximately 52 weeks of work. He sought lost wages in the amount of $ 5,200 under his automobile personal injury protection ("PIP") coverage with Prudential Insurance Company, which have not been paid to date, but which plaintiffs contend are payable. In addition, Austin received $ 520.57 per week from February 10, 1993, to January 9, 1994, from his PNI disability insurance. This coverage is provided under the collective bargaining agreement between Philadelphia Newspapers Union Local 16 and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

 II

 (A)

 Plaintiffs contend that New Jersey law applies to this case. Defendant disagrees, arguing instead that the law to be applied is that of Pennsylvania. Because the case involves contacts which impact more than one jurisdiction, the Court must choose between the relevant laws of the two jurisdictions. See Robert A. Leflar, American Conflicts Law § 2, at 3 (3d ed. 1977).

 In a diversity action, "the choice of law rules of the forum state [determine] which state's law will be applied." Shuder v. McDonald's Corp., 859 F.2d 266, 269 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Klaxon v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 1021, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941)). Accordingly, the Court will apply Pennsylvania's choice of law rules.

 In Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., 416 Pa. 1, 203 A.2d 796 (Pa. 1964), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court abandoned the traditional lex loci delicti conflicts rule for "a more flexible rule which permits analysis of the policies and interests underlying the particular issue before the court." Id. at 805. In commenting on the development of the rule set forth in Griffith, the Third Circuit stated,

 
This new conflicts methodology has evolved into a hybrid approach that "combines the approaches of both Restatement II (contacts establishing significant relationships) and 'interest analysis' (qualitative appraisal of the relevant States' policies with respect to the controversy)."

  Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 187 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting Melville v. Am. Home Assurance Co., 584 F.2d 1306, 1311 (3d Cir. 1978)).

 Under Pennsylvania choice of law rules and the method of analysis established in Griffith, three outcomes may obtain. First, if the law of either jurisdiction may be applied without impairing the governmental interests of the jurisdiction whose law is not being applied, no conflict exists between the respective laws of each jurisdiction and the court should apply the law of ...


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