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Corbin v. Khosla

December 15, 2008

MARY CORBIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SURESH KHOSLA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Slomsky, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Before the Court is Defendant Suresh Khosla's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Defendant sought partial summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff Mary Corbin's claim for economic damages and a declaration that Plaintiff is subject to Pennsylvania's limited tort alternative (75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1705). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in part and denies it in part. The Court concludes that Defendant is entitled to a declaration that Plaintiff is subject to Pennsylvania's limited tort option and also that Plaintiff's claim for economic damages should not be dismissed.

II. General Background

Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant for injuries sustained in an automobile accident that occurred in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on February 16, 2006. (Complaint ¶ 3). Plaintiff sought economic damages in the form of medical expenses and wage loss as well as non-economic damages. (Id.). At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was the owner and operator of a vehicle, registered to her in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that was uninsured. See Defendants' Requests for Admissions No. 1-2 and Plaintiff's Response (collectively, Def. Ex. B).

III. The Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In examining Defendant's motion, we must view the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. InterVest, Inc. v. Bloomberg, L.P., 340 F.3d 144, 159-60 (3d Cir. 2003).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Once the movant has done so, the opposing party cannot rest on the pleadings. To defeat summary judgment, the party must come forward with probative evidence establishing the prima facie elements of her claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The non-movant must show more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" for elements on which she bears the burden of production. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). An inference based upon speculation or conjecture does not create a material fact. Robertson v. Allied Signal, Inc., 914 F.2d 360, 382 n. 12 (3d Cir.1990).

IV. Discussion

Defendant seeks Partial Summary Judgment on two matters arising in this case. First, because Plaintiff's vehicle was uninsured, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff is not entitled to collect economic damages. Second, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff is subject to the limited tort option because Plaintiff's car was uninsured. Defendant's assertions will be addressed in turn.

A. Economic Damages

The first issue raised is whether Plaintiff is entitled to collect economic damages. Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL"), 75 Pa.C.S.A. §1701 et. seq., an owner "of a currently registered motor vehicle who does not have financial responsibility . . . cannot recover first party benefits." 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1714. The owner of a registered, but uninsured motor vehicle is considered to not have financial responsibility. See Swords v. Harleysville Ins. Cos., 883 A.2d 562 (Pa. 2005). First-party benefits are defined as "[m]edical benefits, income loss benefits, accidental death benefits and future benefits." 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1702.

The issue presented here is whether the bar against an uninsured motorist recovering first-party benefits set forth in Section 1714 is restricted to a suit by an uninsured motorist against an insurance company as opposed to a suit against an alleged third-party tortfeasor. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not squarely addressed this issue in a suit against an alleged third-party tortfeasor. It is therefore the role of this Court in an action based on diversity jurisdiction to predict how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would rule on this issue. Boyanowski v. Capital Area Intermediate Unit, 215 F.3d 396, 406 (3d Cir. 2000). This Court concludes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would hold that a plaintiff can recover economic damages from an alleged third-party tortfeasor. A plaintiff would be prohibited, however, from recovering such damages from an insurance company.

In predicting how this matter would be decided under state law, this Court should examine "(1) what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said in related areas; (2) the decisional law of the Pennsylvania intermediate courts; (3) federal appeals and district court cases interpreting the state law . . . ." Id. (citing Wiley v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 995 F.2d 457, 459-60 (3d Cir. 1993). Pennsylvania intermediate courts and a federal district court have addressed the present issue and have held that uninsured motorists are precluded from recovering medical and other expenses from an alleged third-party tortfeasor in the same way that they are ineligible to recover such expenses from an insurer pursuant to Section 1714. See McClung v. Breneman, 700 A.2d 495, 497 (Pa. Super. 1997) (applying the Statutory Construction Act to reach this result); see also Davidson v. United States, No. 95-1506, 1998 WL 314706, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 15, 1998) (predicting that "the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt the McClung decision" and deciding that ...


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