PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia judge granted a petition from two prospective plaintiffs to intervene in an insurance subrogation action tied to residential damage sustained in an automobile fire.

Judge Timothy J. Savage said Sept. 14 the “availability of a means for avoiding prejudice” in this matter allowed the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to grant the petition filed on behalf of intervenor plaintiffs Nicholas and Suzanne Catrambones.

“The Catrambones’ petitioned to intervene in this subrogation action brought by Allstate Insurance Company, to recover payments it made to them for fire damage under a homeowner’s policy,” Savage said. “Allstate sued General Motors, LLC and Saab Cars USA, Inc., alleging that the fire was caused by a defective vehicle manufactured by them.”

According to their petition, the Catrambones seek “to intervene to assert their right to recover for losses that were not covered by the policy," while General Motors opposed their petition on the grounds that such intervention in a late stage of the lawsuit would “prejudice” it.

Savage explained the Catrambones sought to intervene in the suit through Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24, specifically 24(b) and its rule of permissive intervention.

“The party seeking permissive intervention must raise a claim or defense that shares a common question of law or fact with the main action. Here, the Catrambones’ claim shares common questions of law and fact with Allstate’s action against General Motors,” Savage stated.

“The Catrambones’ unreimbursed losses arise out of the same fire damage as Allstate’s losses do. The cause of the losses is the same. The Catrambones raise the same negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability claims against General Motors as Allstate does,” Savage added.

Savage pointed out the quality of permissive intervention is subject to two conditions: Timeliness and not causing undue delay or prejudice the adjudication of the original parties’ rights. Should those conditions be met, Savage indicated, the Catrambones would be allowed to intervene in the case.

As to timeliness, the Catrambones filed their petition to intervene four days before the fact discovery deadline. However, General Motors argued it would in fact be prejudiced if intervention were allowed because “it was not given the opportunity to investigate the Catrambones’ claims related to their unreimbursed losses before the discovery deadline expired.”

“This action was filed by the Catrambones’ insurance carrier to protect only its subrogation interest. General Motors asserts that the Catrambones knew about the action from the time the suit was filed, pointing to the Catrambones’ statement that ‘during the pendency of this action, Allstate and Catrambone were disputing the amount of the loss.’ They were not engaged in a dispute with General Motors,” Savage said.

Savage said the notice of the action given to the Catrambones was not known due to their only being deposed on Aug. 11, leaving any delay on their behalf in filing their petition unknown.

With respect to the concept of undue delay or prejudice, Savage explained a case without the Catrambones’ involvement could have a “preclusive effect” on their claim for uncovered portion of the loss.

“On the other hand, if intervention is permitted at this late stage, General Motors could be prejudiced because the discovery deadline has passed, depriving it of discovery of the Catrambones’ damages. Thus, whether intervention is allowed or not, a party will suffer prejudice,” Savage said.

Though, Savage devised a way to allow for intervention on the part of the Catrambones without General Motors being unduly prejudiced.

“Prejudice to General Motors can be avoided by allowing additional discovery limited to the Catrambones’ claims related to their unreimbursed losses. At the same time, the Catrambones’ interest in the litigation will be protected,” Savage said.

Savage added that extending the fact discovery deadline to Oct. 21 will not “unduly delay” the proceeding, and nor will it prejudice the original parties’ rights. The judge noted this availability to avoid prejudice called for the petition to be granted.

“Because permitting the Catrambones to intervene will protect their rights and extending the discovery deadline will prevent prejudice to General Motors, we shall grant the motion,” Savage concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Kevin M. McBeth of deLuca Levine in Blue Bell, while the intervenor plaintiffs (the Catrambones) are represented by Jonathan Wheeler in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Francis J. Grey Jr. of Ricci Tyrrell Johnson & Grey, plus Joseph A. Breymeier of Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt, both in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-05960

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

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