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07/23/97 MGA INSURANCE COMPANY v. RUDOLPH BAKOS

July 23, 1997

MGA INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT
v.
RUDOLPH BAKOS



Appeal from the JUDGMENT ENTERED July 24, 1996. In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division, DECEMBER TERM, 1995 NO. 2360. Before COHEN, J.

Before: Cirillo, P.j.e., Saylor, J., Hoffman, J. Opinion BY Hoffman, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman

Filed July 23, 1997

OPINION BY HOFFMAN, J.:

This is an appeal from a judgment entered July 24, 1996, in favor of appellee Rudolph Bakos. Appellant, MGA Insurance Company, presents the following issues for our review:

I. Whether the lower court erred when it refused to vacate the arbitrators' award [of $70,000.00 for appellee] even though it was clear that the arbitrators did not view the videotape testimony of the appellant and appellee's medical experts at the arbitration hearing.

II. Whether the lower court erred when it held that the arbitrators reviewed the transcripts of the medical experts, even though there was no evidence that they did, and in fact, it was impossible for the arbitrators to read the entire transcripts of both expert witnesses, given the time from when counsel for the parties left the room, until the time the decision was communicated to counsel for the appellant.

III. Assuming the arbitrators did review the transcripts of the medical experts prior to reaching their decision, whether the lower court erred by failing to rule that the arbitrators' disregard of the medical experts' videotape testimony was a denial of due process.

IV. Whether the lower court erred in rendering its decision without permitting the parties to conduct any discovery on disputed issues of fact under Rule 206.7 (formerly Rule 209).

V. Whether the lower court erred when it also ordered that appellant had to pay $5,500 in attorneys' fees, even though the appellee did not present any evidence of bad faith on the part of appellant.

Appellant's Brief at 3. *fn1

On February 15, 1993, appellee was involved in an automobile accident while driving a truck owned by Rick's Auto Sales, Inc., and insured by appellant. Appellee's truck was hit a result of the accident, appellant complained of injuries to his lower back and pain radiating down his legs. Appellee subsequently filed suit against Page and Bolton, whose vehicle was insured for a maximum amount of $15,000.00 per occurrence. Appellee settled his suit against Page and Bolton for the $15,000.00 policy limit and thereafter made a claim to appellant While appellee's underinsured motorist claim was pending, appellant discovered that appellee had been involved in two prior automobile accidents and a work-related forklift accident after which he complained of injuries similar to those allegedly suffered in the accident underlying his pending claim. On November 21, 1995, appellant and appellee participated in an arbitration pursuant to the Uniform Arbitration Act *fn2 solely on the issue of damages. On that same day, the arbitration panel rendered an award of $70,000.00 in favor of appellee. On December 21, 1995, appellant filed a petition to vacate and/or modify the arbitration award in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, alleging error in the arbitration process. On January 31, 1995, the trial court denied appellant's petition and directed appellant to pay appellee's $5,500.00 attorney fees. This timely appeal followed.

Initially, we note that when reviewing a trial court's ruling on a petition to vacate or modify an arbitration award, this Court will only reverse for an abuse of discretion or error of law. Patton v. J.C. Penney Ins. Co., 445 Pa. Super. 317, 321, 665 A.2d 510, 512 (1995).

Appellant's first three issues challenge the trial court's Conclusion that the arbitrators conducted a fair hearing. Specifically, appellant claims that the award was rendered within a time frame which was too short for the arbitrators to have reviewed the transcripts and/or videotape depositions of two medical expert ...


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