On February 21, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision in Corbin v. Khosla, A.3d —– (Pa. 2012), which clarifies the rights of uninsured, injured parties to bring claims against those responsible for causing their injuries. In Corbin, the plaintiff was operating her uninsured vehicle in a southerly direction on Route 413 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. The defendant was traveling in the opposite direction on Route 413 and made an improper left turn in front of the plaintiff s vehicle, causing a collision. As a result of the collision, the plaintiff sustained injuries.
Plaintiff filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania based on diversity jurisdiction. The defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claims for economic damages for payment of medical bills under Section 1714 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ( MVFRL ) should be dismissed, as plaintiff failed to have her own vehicle properly insured at the time of the accident. The defendant also sought a declaration that plaintiff was precluded from seeking non-economic damages, as she was subject to the limited tort option per Section 1705(a)(5) of the MVFRL.
The district court ruled that plaintiff was precluded from recovering non-economic damages under Section 1705, but predicted that, based upon the language in Swords v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 883 A.2d 562 (Pa. 2005) that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would hold that a plaintiff can recover economic damages from an alleged third party tortfeasor, but that the plaintiff would be prohibited from recovering such damages from an insurance company. The decision was certified for immediate appeal, and the Third Circuit granted permission to appeal. The Third Circuit then petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for certification of the following question of law: Does 1714 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law preclude an uninsured motorist from recovering tort damages for economic losses from an alleged third-party tortfeasor.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court analyzed the issue, noting that uninsured motorists are precluded from recovering first party benefits (e.g. medical expenses, wage loss, accidental death and funeral benefits) by virtue of their uninsured status. The Court noted, however, that the MVFRL simultaneously provides that an uninsured motorist is deemed to have elected the limited tort alternative pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1705(a)(5). Pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1705(d), a driver bound by the limited tort option remains eligible to seek compensation for economic loss as against the responsible tortfeasor.
The Court reviewed a number of Pennsylvania Superior Court holdings on this issue, indicating that some confusion appeared to have arisen in the analysis of the unavailability of first party benefits to uninsured drivers with its interplay on the availability of recovery of economic losses against the tortfeasor s liability coverage. The Court held that the MVFRL does not preclude an uninsured motorist from recovering tort damages, including economic losses, from a third party tortfeasor’s liability coverage.
This decision is important in that it expands the rights of uninsured motorists to seek recovery in the event they are injured through no fault of their own. In today’s economic climate, more and more drivers are uninsured. Should those drivers be involved in an accident and sustain injury, the Supreme Court s decision in Corbin provides an avenue to permit recovery of medical expenses and wage loss from the responsible party.