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Deborah Reichert v. State Farm Ins. Co

March 29, 2011

DEBORAH REICHERT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE FARM INS. CO., DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant State Farm Insurance Company ("State Farm") and Plaintiff Deborah Reichert (Doc. Nos. 11, 12). The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation of Facts (Doc. No. 10) and agree that there is a single legal issue for the Court to decide - whether Ms. Reichert is entitled to "stack" or aggregate the coverage of her automobile insurance policy with the coverage of the automobile insurance policy of her parents, thereby increasing her total coverage by $100,000. For reasons that follow, the Court holds that Ms. Reichert is not entitled to stack the coverage of her insurance policy with the coverage of the insurance policy of her parents. Accordingly, the Court will grant State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Ms. Reichert's Motion for Summary Judgment.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

On December 18, 2007, Plaintiff Deborah Reichert was operating her 2002 Ford Explorer. She was stopped at a red light when her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Shawn Davis. Mr. Davis's vehicle was insured by Praetorian Insurance Company ("Praetorian") at the time of the accident.*fn2 Following the accident, Ms. Reichert filed a claim with Praetorian, seeking payment for injuries sustained as a result of the accident caused by its insured, Mr. Davis. Praetorian paid to Ms. Reichert an amount equal to the liability limits of Mr. Davis's insurance policy. Since the amount paid did not satisfy the damages she sustained in the accident, Plaintiff filed claims for underinsured benefits pursuant to the terms of her automobile policy and that of her parents. She also filed a claim under the automobile insurance policy of her son, Christopher Reichert.

At the time of the accident, Ms. Reichert resided with her son, Christopher Reichert, and her parents, George and Ella Downing (the "Downings"). Defendant State Farm had issued the three separate insurance policies to members of Ms. Reichert's household: one to Ms. Reichert (the "Reichert Policy"), one to her son, and one to her parents (the "Downing Policy"). Following the December 18, 2007 accident, Ms. Reichert made a claim under each policy.

A. The Policies

1. The Reichert Policy

The Reichert Policy insures Ms. Reichert's 2002 Ford Explorer. It includes underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits in the amount of $25,000. UIM benefits are benefits an insured receives when a third party causes an accident but has insufficient funds under his policy to pay the full amount of damages caused by the accident. In the instant case, the accident was caused by a third party - Mr. Davis. Although Mr. Davis was insured by Praetorian, his liability limits were insufficient to cover the damages sustained by Ms. Reichert. To cover the damages not included in the payment from Praetorian, Ms. Reichert sought UIM benefits from State Farm.

The Reichert Policy contains a stacking provision. A stacking provision allows an insured "to add the coverages available from different vehicles and/or different policies to provide a greater amount of coverage available under any one vehicle or policy." McGovern v. Erie Ins. Group, 796 A.2d 343, 344 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002); Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL"), 75 Pa. C.S. § 1738(a). Pursuant to this stacking provision, Ms. Reichert seeks to stack the UIM benefits of her policy - the Reichert Policy - with the benefits of the Downing Policy and the policy of her son.

2. The Policy of Christopher Reichert The policy issued to Christopher Reichert, son of Ms. Reichert, insures Christopher Reichert's 2007 Hyundai Accent. This policy is identical to the Reichert Policy in all relevant respects. It provides $25,000 in UIM benefits and contains a stacking provision.

3. The Downing Policy

The Downing Policy insures the Downings' 1998 Buick Lesabre and provides $100,000 in UIM benefits. The Policy contains a waiver whereby the Downings explicitly rejected stacking. The Waiver titled "Rejection of Stacked Underinsured Coverage Limits" provides:

By signing this waiver, I am rejecting stacked limits of underinsured motorist coverage under the policy for myself and members of my household under which the limits of coverage available would be the sums of limits for each motor vehicle insured under the policy. Instead the limits of coverage that I am purchasing shall be reduced to the limits stated in the policy. I knowingly and voluntarily reject the stacked limits of coverage. I understand that my premiums will be reduced if I reject this coverage. (See Doc. No. 16.) By signing this waiver of the stacking ...


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