Pennsylvania’s Uninsured Motorists Can Sue for Economic Damages

Filed under: Personal Injury Tags: , by Steven F. Fairlie @ February 25, 2012

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a long-awaited decision in the case of Corbin v. Khosla. In that case, the Supreme Court decided whether an uninsured driver who is injured in a motorvehicle accident with an insured driver, may sue the insured driver for economic damages. Economic damages in tort law include medical expenses incurred and wages lost as a result of the injury. On Tuesday, February 21, the high Court answered in the affirmative.

The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which the plaintiff suffered bodily injury when her uninsured vehicle collided with the defendant’s insured vehicle. As a result of the insured defendant’s negligence in causing the accident, the uninsured plaintiff sued to recover economic damages.

The case quickly made its way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because of a tension between two sections of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). On the one hand, section 1714 of the MVFRL prohibits uninsured drivers from recovering first-party benefits. On the other, section 1705 of the MVFRL deems uninsured drivers to have chosen the limited tort alternative, which permits recovery of medical expenses and wage loss sustained in a motor vehicle accident as the consequence of the fault of another person. Thus, the MVFRL both prohibits and permits insurance recovery to uninsured drivers for this category of damages or loss.

After reviewing the history and law applicable to the issue presented, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted the distinct differences between how first-party claims and third-party claims are viewed such that the Court found that there was no ambiguity in the above stated statutory provisions. Section 1714 of the MVFRL does not explicitly exclude recovery of benefits from an alleged third-party tortfeasor. Rather, the statue only precludes such uninsured motorists from making claims for first-party benefits as insured, a named insured, or the occupant of an insured vehicle. In this context “first-party benefits” refer to medical expenses and wage loss paid by a plaintiff’s own insurance carrier and not by a third-party.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court went on to hold that, while there are some penalties assessed to an uninsured driver for driving without insurance (i.e. no first-party benefits, limited tort status, criminal penalties), there is no recognized prohibition against an injured uninsured motorist pursuing a claim against another negligent driver to recover the injured party’s economic damages.

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Section 1714 of the MVFRL does not preclude an injured uninsured motorist from pursuing and recovering medical expenses or wage loss from the other negligent driver. Certainly, this ruling is a significant victory for uninsured drivers who are victims of accidents through no fault of their own. If you have been in a car accident, contact a lawyer at Fairlie & Lippy to discuss your case.

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