Nicholas Malfitano Jul. 19, 2016, 2:15pm


PHILADELPHIA – A federal court here has approved a defense motion to exclude any testimony and evidence connected to underinsured motorist policy limits and the amount of premiums paid for the policy, in a vehicle insurance litigation.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter ruled July 7 that said evidence would be excluded through a motion in limine, in a case concerning Darren T. Lucca’s lawsuit against Geico Insurance Company.

Lucca sued Geico for breach of contract, for refusing to provide underinsured motorist benefits after he was injured in an April 2011 car accident – and according to records filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the only issue remaining in the case is “the extent of damages attributable to the accident.”

“On April 8, 2011, Lucca was involved in a car accident due to the negligence of another motorist, causing him to suffer various personal injuries. At the time, his car was insured by defendant Geico,” Pratter said. “As part of his policy, Lucca had underinsured motorist benefits. The other motorist had $100,000 in coverage through his insurance carrier, which Lucca alleges was insufficient to cover his injuries.”

Pratter explained Lucca sought Geico’s consent to settle his claim with the other motorist’s insurer for $75,000, on Jan. 8, 2015. Lucca also sought to obtain underinsured motorist benefits from Geico.

“Geico denied his claim, believing that Mr. Lucca had received $75,000 from the other motorist’s insurance as an award in binding arbitration, not in settlement, and that therefore the other motorist was not underinsured,” Pratter said.

Lucca then filed a three-count complaint, claiming bad faith, violations of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL), and breach of contract, in state court. In that complaint, Lucca sought compensatory damages, treble damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

Geico removed the complaint to federal court and moved to dismiss the bad faith claim, however, the parties later agreed to the dismissal of that claim and the UTPCPL claim without prejudice. This left only the breach of contract claim remaining in the lawsuit.

“Geico filed a motion in limine, asking the Court to bar Lucca from offering evidence or testimony regarding the amount of underinsured motorist coverage provided for in the insurance policy at issue or regarding the amount of any premiums paid for the coverage,” Pratter said.

“In the alternative, Geico asks that if the Court deems that evidence relevant and not prejudicial, the Court should also allow Geico to introduce evidence regarding the third party tortfeasor’s insurance limits and the amount of the settlement with the third party tortfeasor,” Pratter added.

Pratter explained Geico, in its motion in limine, presented a previously unaddressed issue – whether information about an insured’s coverage limits and paid premiums is “relevant, non-prejudicial evidence that may be introduced when the jury’s only task is to determine the amount of damages incurred by the insured.”

“Case law regarding this issue in Pennsylvania is almost non-existent, as both sides acknowledge. The one reported federal decision on the issue permitted the evidence to be introduced,” Pratter said, referring to Noone v. Progressive Direct Insurance Company.

“In that case, evidence of the coverage limits for both the tortfeasor’s and the plaintiff’s insurance policy was permitted, as well as evidence of the amount the plaintiff received from the tortfeasor and the amount the plaintiff paid in premiums for the plaintiff’s own insurance. Mr. Lucca relies heavily on Noone in his response, but without setting forth any principled reasons of his own regarding why the evidence is relevant or not unduly prejudicial,” Pratter added.

Pratter made her thoughts clear on the relevant criteria in the case.

“The only issue for the jury to decide in this matter is the extent of Mr. Lucca’s injuries from the accident. That Mr. Lucca’s policy includes a $900,000 underinsured motorist limit or that his stepfather paid a certain amount in premiums for the policy does not have ‘any tendency to make (any fact at issue in this case) more or less probable than it would be without the evidence,” Pratter commented.

“Indeed, not only is the policy limit irrelevant in this case, introducing evidence of the policy limit may very well serve to prejudice Geico by giving the jury an anchor number that has no bearing on Lucca’s damages,” Pratter said.

“For these reasons, the Court will exclude at trial any mention of the policy limits or the amount of premiums paid. Once a verdict has been rendered by the jury on the amount of damages suffered by Lucca, the Court can mold the verdict appropriately to reflect the limits of both Lucca’s policy and the third party tortfeasor’s policy,” Pratter concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Guy N. Paolino of Forbes Bender Paolino & DiSanti, in Media.

The defendant is represented by Robert J. Cahall and Scott J. Tredwell of McCormick & Priore, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-04124

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

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