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One Beacon Insurance Co v. Joann Dambacher

March 2, 2011

ONE BEACON INSURANCE CO., PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOANN DAMBACHER,
DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff OneBeacon Insurance Company ("OneBeacon")brought an action against its insured, Defendant Joann Dambacher, for a declaratory judgment that it has no obligation to pay certain claims submitted under an automobile insurance policy. Following a bench trial on September 9, 2010, the Court ruled that under the terms of a release agreement, OneBeacon was required to provide for Dambacher's reasonable expenses for nursing services, van modifications, and home renovations. The Court conducted a hearing on January 31, 2011 concerning the amount of Dambacher's entitlement to home modifications. For the reasons that follow, and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the Court concludes that Dambacher is entitled to reimbursement from OneBeacon in the amount of $244,715.50.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

A. Background

On November 3, 1977, Joann Dambacher was involved in an automobile accident that rendered her a quadriplegic. She has since required extensive nursing and rehabilitative care and disabled-accessible living accommodations. (Trial Tr. at 31, 32, 51, 53.) At the time of her accident, Dambacher was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Commercial Union Insurance Company ("Commercial Union"). (Agreed Facts¶2.) After protracted litigation with Commercial Union over her entitlement to coverage, the parties settled the case in 1986 and executed a release. (Agreed Facts ¶¶ 2-6.) In November of 2009, OneBeacon, successor-in-interest to Commercial Union, filed an action for a declaratory judgment that it had no obligation to pay certain claims. The Court disagreed and ordered OneBeacon to provide for Dambacher's reasonable expenses for nursing services, van modifications, and home renovations.

However, the parties could not agree on a reasonable figure for home renovations. Therefore, this Court heard additional evidence to determine a reasonable amount for OneBeacon to pay to meet its obligations. The only issue currently before the Court is what constitutes reasonable design modifications to the new residence that Dambacher seeks to build and that OneBeacon must pay for under the release and the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, 40 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1009.101 et seq. ("the No Fault Act").

B. Dambacher's Evidence

Dambacher has engaged Craig Masterson of Holliday Architects ("Holliday") to design her new disabled-accessible residence in Shamong, New Jersey. She has submitted Masterson's testimony, Holliday's plans for her proposed residence, Masterson's cost breakdown for accessibility improvements, and a list of construction bids from five different contractors. Masterson, an architect for eight years, has designed six houses specifically built to accommodate disabled persons. He has also participated in the design of multi-family and commercial properties that are disabled-accessible.

Masterson has designed a one-story 3,605 square foot house for Dambacher. (Def.'s Ex. 1 [Holliday Plans].) The plans also include a garage measuring 932 square feet. (Id.) Masterson itemized the improvements to the house that are attributable to making it functional for Dambacher. (Def.'s Ex. 3 [Masterson Cost Breakdown].) Masterson testified that his proposed design modifications were based on American National Standards Institute ("ANSI") and the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") guidelines. Dambacher's requested expenses total $491,574 and are broken down as follows:

Expense Associated Cost

1,200 extra square feet due to wheelchair access needs, including 505 square feet for a nurse's living suite $273,880 Wider interior doors for wheelchair access $1,100 "Lever type" door hardware for ease of use $1,000 Additional foundation required for a one-story house $51,237 Top-of-foundation wall detail, which lowers the house closer to grade, thereby reducing $700 the height of required ramps Automatic doors $2,000 Disabled-accessible automatic windows $16,338 Therapeutic spa $33,551 Hardwood and ceramic tile flooring required due to wheelchair requirements $23,939 Wall-mounted bathroom fixtures to conform with ADA and ANSI accessibility standards $1,000 Exterior wheelchair ramps $2,203 Oversize garage doors to accommodate disabled--accessible vehicles $1,000 Larger garage $54,776 Security system $12,000 Upgraded interior trim to accommodate wear from the impact of wheelchairs $1,500 Grab bars and associated blocking throughout the house to conform with ADA and ANSI $750 specifications Two ceiling-mounted lifts to accommodate Ms. Dambacher getting in and out of bed and $14,600 in and out of the therapeutic spa (Id.)

Dambacher has submitted five estimates for the new home, ranging from $728,697.50 to $817,751.68. (Def.'s Ex. 2 [Letter Dated Nov. 15, 2010 from Masterson with Construction Bids].) For the 3,605 square foot home and the 932 square foot garage, this amounts to a cost of approximately $161 to $180 per square foot. (See Pl.'s Ex. 2 [Lynch Report] 4.) After OneBeacon argued at the hearing that some requested expenses were unreasonable, Dambacher agreed to subtract $134,690 from her proposal by eliminating several items, including the therapeutic spa, one of the two ceiling lifts, and higher-end flooring. This reduces the costs associated with making the home fully accessible to $356,894.00. (Def.'s Am. Prop. Findings of Fact and Concl. of Law ¶ 14.)

C. OneBeacon's Evidence

OneBeacon has submitted the testimony, resume, and cost breakdown report of Christopher Lynch. Lynch is President of Alternatives to Barriers, Inc., which specializes in the "design of barrier-free environments." (Pl.'s Ex. 1 [Lynch Resume]) Alternatives to Barriers designs wheelchair-accessible environments for new and existing ...


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