Nicholas Malfitano Jan. 11, 2016, 3:35pm


PHILADELPHIA – A couple who initially waived underinsured motorist coverage from their insurance provider, then later sought to obtain the coverage after an auto accident, will again not be able to compel the company to provide that coverage.

A decision filed Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a trial court judgment denying plaintiffs Janet and Ed Lieb from forcing their provider and defendant, Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company, to extend them the underinsured motorist coverage in question.

Judges Julio M. Fuentes, Kent A. Jordan and Thomas I. Vanaskie heard the case, with Fuentes authoring the Court’s ruling.

The Liebs purchased an insurance policy on their car from Allstate in May 2012. As part of that transaction, Ed Lieb signed a waiver of underinsured motorist coverage, which acknowledged forgoing the option to have such coverage if his vehicle, or any other vehicles in his household, were to be involved in an auto accident with another driver incapable of paying the resulting costs.

Lieb signed but did not date the waiver form, and faxed it back to Allstate. Allstate received the form bearing a time-stamp, fax number and the name of Lieb’s employer.

Just over one year later, Janet Lieb was driving the insured vehicle with Ed Lieb as a passenger, when the plaintiffs were rear-ended by another driver. The Liebs claimed to suffer “permanent and disfiguring injuries” in the crash, and filed suit against Allstate for underinsured motorist coverage and bad faith, claiming the waiver Ed signed was invalid.

Eventually, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied the Liebs a motion to remand the case to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and granted Allstate’s motion to dismiss; which the Liebs appealed to the Third Circuit.

Fuentes began by explaining why the Liebs’ attempt to remand the case to state court based on meeting the monetary limit of less than $75,000 failed.

“The District Court reviewed the allegations in the Liebs’ original complaint and concluded that, in view of claims for statutory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees, that complaint sought more than the $75,000 jurisdictional threshold on behalf of each plaintiff. This is a reasonable reading of the value of the rights being litigated, and we will not disturb it,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes added diversity of jurisdiction would also have the case tried in federal court, as the Liebs are citizens of Pennsylvania and Allstate is based in Illinois.

Further, the Liebs argued the waiver form was invalid because Pennsylvania law requires the form to be signed and dated – which they interpreted to read as signed and dated by the insured party, whereas Allstate claimed Ed Lieb’s signature and the time-stamped date satisfied this requirement.

“The issue here is not whether to apply the waiver statute strictly, but rather how to interpret that law in the first instance,” Fuentes said. “In our view, the machine-written timestamp on the Liebs’ waiver form suffices for the form to have been ‘dated’ in accordance with Pennsylvania law.”

Fuentes ended his rationale by stating the plaintiffs had not referred to the correct waiver form in their state court complaint, a mistake pointed out by Allstate but one where the plaintiffs continued to refer to an incorrect waiver form. Fuentes asked for diligence on the part of all parties concerned in this case in the future.

“We will affirm the judgment of the District Court,” Fuentes concluded.

The plaintiffs are represented by Marc I. Simon and Matthew J. Zamites of Simon & Simon, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Sara Beth Richman, John R. Brown, Kristin H. Jones and Marshall Walthew of Pepper Hamilton, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 14-4788

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-04225

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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