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07/10/97 FLEETWAY LEASING COMPANY v. FRANCES R.

July 10, 1997

FLEETWAY LEASING COMPANY, APPELLANT
v.
FRANCES R. WRIGHT, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order entered June 20, 1996 in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Civil, No. 94-51245. Before JENKINS, J.

Before: Cavanaugh, Beck, and Kelly, JJ. Opinion BY Kelly, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kelly

OPINION BY KELLY, J.:

Filed July 10, 1997

In this appeal we are asked to determine whether the trial court erred in granting appellee's, Frances R. Wright's, motion for summary judgment. Based upon the reasoning set forth below, we hold that appellee terminated all her liability arising from the automobile accident on July 31, 1992 when she tendered payment to the lessee of the damaged vehicle, Martin Holloway. Thus, we affirm the order of the trial court granting appellee's motion for summary judgment.

The relevant facts and procedural history of this appeal are as follows. Appellant, Fleetway Leasing Company, leased an automobile to Martin Holloway ("Holloway") on December 5, 1990. On July 31, 1992, the automobile, while being operated by Holloway, was involved in an accident with a car driven by appellee. Immediately after the accident, Holloway identified himself to appellee as the sole owner of the vehicle. Additionally, on August 20, 1992, Holloway completed a "Report of Damage" for the accident in which he purported to be the sole owner of the vehicle he was operating at the time of the accident. At no time did Holloway ever inform appellee that the vehicle was being leased from appellant.

Based upon the representations by Holloway that he was the sole owner of the vehicle, appellee entered into negotiations with him regarding property damage to the vehicle. Subsequently, Holloway and appellee agreed to settle the claim for $9,686.09. Appellee tendered payment in good faith to Holloway in full satisfaction of the claims for property damage. The money paid to Holloway was not used to repair the vehicle and Holloway never turned over the money to appellant as required by the terms of their lease agreement. *fn1 Holloway absconded the area with the money and left no forwarding address.

Appellant initiated this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County on May 16, 1994. Appellant sought to recover from appellee the $9,686.09 paid to Holloway for property damage to the leased vehicle. Subsequently, both parties stipulated to the above-mentioned facts and filed for a judicial determination on cross-motions for summary judgment. On June 20, 1996, the trial court, per Judge Patricia H. Jenkins, entered an order granting appellee's motion for summary judgment. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal on July 10, 1996.

Appellant raises the following issues for our review:

1. WHETHER A TORTFEASOR BEARS THE BURDEN OF MINIMALLY VERIFYING THE CLAIMS OF OWNERSHIP OF A DAMAGED MOTOR VEHICLE BEFORE COMPENSATING THE CLAIMANT.

2. WHETHER THE TORTFEASOR'S OWN MISTAKE IN COMPENSATING A CLAIMANT SHOULD BE REVERSED EVEN THOUGH THE TORTFEASOR HERSELF WAS IN THE BEST POSITION OF ANY PARTY OF PREVENTING THE MISTAKE.

(Appellant's Brief at 3).

At the outset, we note that we will reverse a grant of summary judgment only when the trial court has committed an error of law or abused its discretion. Butterfield v. Giuntoli, 448 Pa. Super. 1, 11, 670 A.2d 646, 651 (1995), allocatur denied, 546 Pa. 635, 683 A.2d 875 (1996); Accu-Weather v. Prospect Communications, 435 Pa. Super. 93, 99, 644 A.2d 1251, 1254 (1994). Furthermore, we are not bound by the trial court's Conclusions of law, but may draw our own inferences and reach our own Conclusion. Butterfield v. Giuntoli, (supra) at 11, 670 A.2d at 651 (citing Dauphin Deposit Trust Company v. World Mutual Health and Accident Insurance Company of Pennsylvania, 206 Pa. Super. 406, 409, 213 A.2d 116, 117 (1965)).

The trial court, relying on Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation v. Dimeling, 429 Pa. Super. 65, 631 A.2d 1058 (1993), determined that appellant should bear the loss caused by Holloway. Under Artkraft, where one of two innocent parties suffers a loss due to the fraud of a third party, the innocent party who has accredited the third party must bear the loss. Id. at 70, 631 A.2d at 1061 (citing Rothman v. Fillette, 503 Pa. 259, 265, 469 A.2d 543, 545 (1983)). The trial court found that appellant, by entering into a lease agreement with Holloway, put him in a position of trust and confidence which enabled him ...


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