Pennsylvania Superior Court upholds ruling in wrongful death suit

By David Hutton | Oct 5, 2017

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld a Berks County Common Pleas Court ruling denying summary judgment in a wrongful death lawsuit against Frankie & Eddie’s Hanover Inn and RCA Insurance Group.

“Upon review, we conclude that the trial court’s interpretation is sound and free of legal error, and we affirm on this basis as to Good’s claims,” Senior Judge John L. Musmanno wrote in the Sept. 21 opinion. “Accordingly, the trial court properly denied Good’s motion for summary judgment.”

The case was heard in Pennsylvania Superior Court by Musmanno, Judge Carl A. Solano and Judge H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.

Florence A. Good filed the lawsuit on her own behalf and as executrix of the estate of Barry D. Good, who was killed when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a pickup truck driven by Francis Lynch, who, according to court documents, was driving under the influence of alcohol he had been served at Hanover Inn. The opinion states the collision occurred in April 2012.

According to court documents, the inn was covered by an insurance policy that included liquor liability coverage through RCA.

Good filed the complaint after the parties were unable to come to a settlement regarding the liability limits of Hanover Inn’s insurance policy.

On June 17, 2013, Good filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that would set the applicable liability limit at $1 million, an additional $500,000 over an undisputed amount of $500,000.

However, in a response filed a week later, RCA maintained that the applicable liability limit was $500,000 for each occurrence.

On Aug. 22, 2016, Good asked the trial court for a motion of summary judgment, maintaining there were no real disputes over the facts of the case.

On Sept. 19, 2016, RCA filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, maintaining the Hanover Inn policy was not clear regarding a common cause limit or an aggregate limit that would result in a higher payment to Good.

The trial court ultimately rejected Good’s motion for summary judgment while also denying RCA’s cross-motion for summary judgment, maintaining it was “moot.”

In an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Good argued the trial court made a mistake in its ruling on the amount of the liquor liability coverage and whether the term “occurrence” was unambiguous without the presence of a definition in the policy.

Good also contended the trial court erred in using “each occurrence” and “each common cause limit” interchangeably.

In the opinion, Musmanno noted the absence of definitions for the term “occurrence” and the phrase “each common cause limit” in the policy did not make it ambiguous to the extent that the aggregate limit was available for a single liquor liability claim.

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