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Brittain v. National Casualty Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 27, 2014

BILLIE J. BRITTAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant

For BILLIE J. BRITTAIN, Plaintiff: Doug J. Olcott, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dallas W. Hartman, P.C., New Castle, PA.

For NATIONAL CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant: Ryan Michael Joyce, LEAD ATTORNEY, Swartz Campbell, LLC, Pittsburgh, PA; Robert J. Grimm, Swartz Campbell, Pittsburgh, PA.

OPINION

Page 301

Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant National Casualty Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 23). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons which follow, Defendant's motion is denied.

I. Background

On February 4, 2007, Plaintiff Billie J. Brittain (" Plaintiff" ) was operating a rental car on State Route 430 in Greenfield Township, Pennsylvania when she was struck by a vehicle operated by Jason Prody (" Prody" ). Compl. ¶ ¶ 4, 7; Brittain Dep. Tr. at 64-68. As a result of the accident, Plaintiff alleges that she suffered severe bodily injuries. Compl. ¶ 5. At the time of the accident, Prody carried $25,000.00 in bodily injury protection pursuant to an insurance policy with State Farm Insurance. Compl. ¶ 9. The rental vehicle operated by Plaintiff was insured pursuant to a policy with Defendant National Casualty Company (" Defendant" ). Compl. ¶ 10.

On November 6, 2008, Prody's insurance carrier tendered its $25,000.00 bodily injury policy limit to Plaintiff to settle her claim against Prody. Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff accepted this settlement from State Farm, but immediately indicated to Defendant that, as a result of the severity of her injuries, she intended to pursue a claim for underinsured motorist benefits (" UIM" ). Compl. ¶ ¶ 11-12. Defendant promptly denied her claim on the basis that Plaintiff and/or the rental company had allegedly elected to waive UIM coverage. Compl. ¶ ¶ 12-13.

On February 3, 2009, Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action in state court seeking a declaration that the waiver of UIM coverage was invalid and asserting claims of bad faith, negligence and breach of contract. Compl. ¶ ¶ 12-13 and Ex. A. On August 11, 2010, Judge Garhart ruled that the UIM waiver form relied upon by Defendants to deny coverage was " null and void" because the form had failed to include the specific phrase " I knowingly and voluntarily reject this coverage" as required by 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1731(c). Compl. ¶ 14; Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 19; Def.'s Ex. C. In light of his determination that Plaintiff had a legally valid right to pursue UIM benefits, Judge Garhart declined to address Plaintiff's remaining claims. Defendant's Ex. C.

The parties subsequently attempted to resolve their dispute through arbitration. Compl. ¶ ¶ 15-16; Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 20; Def.'s Ex. D. Before an arbitration panel could be selected, however, a discrepancy arose concerning the amount of available UIM coverage. Plaintiff indicated that defense counsel had

Page 302

previously represented that the policy provided for up to $1,000,000 in UIM benefits, while Defendant averred that only $15,000 was available. Compl. ¶ ¶ 15-16; Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts, ¶ ¶ 21-22; Def.'s Ex. D. Upon Plaintiff's motion, the state court dissolved the arbitration panel on grounds of mutual mistake, concluding that " at the time the agreement to arbitrate was formed, both parties were mistaken as to the amount of available UIM coverage." Def.'s Ex. D.

On February 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant federal action seeking UIM benefits. Compl. ¶ ¶ 20-24. On February 25, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff's claim was barred by Pennsylvania's four-year statute of limitations governing contractual claims for UIM benefits. ECF No. 4. At oral argument, former Chief Judge Sean J. McLaughlin denied the motion to dismiss " without prejudice to re-visit the argument under a Rule 56 motion." ECF No. 13.

On August 28, 2013, this matter was transferred to the docket of the undersigned as the result of Chief Judge McLaughlin's resignation. ECF No. 21. On October 11, 2013, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, once more arguing that Plaintiff's claim is barred by the applicable ...


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