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BREAKING NEWS: Increase in UIM Policy Limit Considered a ‘Purchase’ Requiring New Stacking Waiver

UIM Coverage

On February 5, 2018, the federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that an increase in Under Insured Motorist (UIM) benefits is a new purchase of insurance coverage.  As such, automobile insurance carriers are required to obtain a new waiver of the stacked benefits under the auto insurance policy.

Stacked benefits, in UIM coverage, means that a person who purchases automobile insurance on more than one vehicle under the same policy can elect to purchase up to double the UIM insurance coverage.  The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”) requires an insurance carrier to offer stacked benefits to every policy holder who purchases insurance.  If the policy holder decides not to take advantage of the stacked benefits, the insurer must obtain a written waiver of those benefits.

For instance, if you insure two cars for $20,000.00 each, you are eligible for stacking benefits that would allow you claim up to $40,000.00 on each vehicle.  The MVFRL requires that the insurer offer this option to each and every insured.

If the insured declines, then the insurer must obtain an express written waiver of the option to purchase “stacked” benefits.

According to the Pennsylvania Eastern District Court in Barnard v Travelers, No. 17-00290, whenever an insured chooses to increase the amount of coverage under her UIM policy, the insurance carrier must obtain a new written waiver of stacked benefits as required by the MVFRL.

Background

Michelle Barnard, the Plaintiff in this case, held a UIM policy with The Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company, the Defendant, since 2007.  When she initially secured the policy, she had UIM coverage limits of $50,000.00 for each of her two vehicles.

At the time of purchasing the initial insurance coverage, she signed a written waiver of stacked benefits under that policy, i.e., Ms. Barnard waived her right to stack UIM benefits under her policy.  With that, the maximum amount of UIM benefits that she could claim, and ultimately receive, under her policy was $50,000.00.

However, in May 2009, Ms. Barnard increased her third-party liability coverage limits under the policy from $50,000.00 to $100,000.00 on each insured vehicle.  So, this meant she would have been entitled to claim up to $200,000.00 on each car, as per her allowable stacked benefits.  Notably, Ms. Barnard did not sign any written waiver of her stacked benefits upon this increase in coverage.

Thereafter, when Ms. Barnard was injured in a car accident on June 17, 2016, she submitted a UIM claim under her policy with Travelers Insurance.  Travelers tendered $100,000.00 in UIM benefits to Ms. Barnard, assuming that she had waived her option to stack her UIM benefits in 2007.  Ms. Barnard, however, rejected this tender and, claiming that she was entitled to more than was tendered, she sued the Travelers.

Increase in UIM limit is a ‘Purchase’

Travelers argued before the Eastern District Court that, among other things, it had no duty to obtain a new waiver of stacked benefits under the policy, even after Ms. Barnard had increased her liability insurance coverage limits in 2009.  In other words, Travelers claimed that the initial 2007 waiver was still in operation and effective, despite the increased coverage purchased by Ms. Barnard in 2009.

The federal district court, however, rejected Travelers’ argument.  Judge Gerald McHugh held that the language of the MVFRL requires a renewed waiver of stacked benefits when liability coverage limits are increased and/or purchased.

According to Judge McHugh, because an increase in coverage under an existing policy requires that an insured pay a higher premium, an increase in coverage limits also qualifies as a “purchase” as defined by the MVFRL.  As a result, the court ruled that Travelers should have obtained a new waiver of UIM stacked benefits, in 2009, when Ms. Barnard increased her liability insurance limits.  Pursuant to the district court’s ruling, Travelers was responsible, and required, to pay Ms. Barnard up to $200,000.00 in UIM benefits under her policy.[1]

For questions relating to the MVFRL and Pennsylvania auto insurance coverages, please contact Matthew R. Zwick, partner of Zwick Law, at (814) 371-6400 or mrz@zwick-law.com, to schedule a legal consultation.  At Zwick Law, we’re always here for you.[2]

 

[1] Note: Travelers filed an appeal of the district court’s decision to the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which remains pending at the time of publication of this article.

[2] Disclaimer: The use of the Internet, Facebook and/or any other form of social media communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.  Time-sensitive information should be directed immediately to the office of Zwick Law at (814) 371-6400.

 

What is Workers’ Compensation?

Have you been injured on the job? Maybe you twisted your ankle while rushing into the elevator for that meeting with the boss or sprained your wrist while trying to beat that deadline. If you have suffered a work-related injury, you may be entitled to benefits under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws.

workers' compensation

workers’ compensation

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) was enacted to provide no fault recourse for workers who suffer injuries in the workplace.  The Act ensures that no worker will go without some form of compensation for workplace-related injuries. The Act thus requires that all Pennsylvania employers register with an insurer for workers’ compensation coverage.

Every Pennsylvania worker is covered by the Act.  So, even if your employer has failed to procure workers’ compensation insurance coverage, you are still able to obtain compensation benefits under the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund.

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation laws and regulations provide for you in the event of work-related injuries.  The Act provides financial, medical and other related benefits and support to workers who have been injured on the job.

The Act ensures that injured workers can obtain no-fault compensation for work-related injuries.  However, this “no-fault” insurance coverage comes with a compromise — your right to sue your employer for the injury.

What are some of the requirements to obtain workers’ compensation?

Before you can be eligible to receive benefits under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, you must fulfil some requirements

  1. There must be an employer/employee relationship.

While this is usually straightforward, there are some situations when it is difficult to determine whether the relationship is an employment relationship under the law. For instance, an independent contractor does not qualify as an employee. For the purpose of determining whether a person qualifies as an employee, four things are usually considered:

  • The right of the employee to select the employer;
  • The employer’s right to “sack” the employee;
  • The employer’s power to direct the manner of performing the job; and
  • The employer’s power to control the employee;

Even if you don’t qualify as an employee under these conditions, you may still be an employee under the definition of a “statutory employer”.  For instance, if you are an employee of a sub-contractor that has been hired by a general contractor for a construction-type job, you may be entitled to compensation for work-related injuries. Your employer in this case is a “statutory employer.”

  1. The injury must have occurred under Pennsylvania jurisdiction

If you are hired in Pennsylvania, but often have to work in other states, it won’t matter whether the work injury happen in Pennsylvania, or some other jurisdiction.

  1. You must have suffered the injury in the course of employment

Each situation is usually decided on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. You don’t have to be actively working when the injury occurs, though. You could be playing tennis as part of the company’s sports team or attending a party for the company and possibly still be covered. The important requirement is that you must have been furthering the interest of your employer.

What type of workers’ compensation are you entitled to receive?

Under the Act, you are generally compensated for any disability that occurs as a result of work-related injuries.

Disability, under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, is defined by work loss. A disability may result in total disability, temporary total disability or temporary partial disability. It is total disability scenarios when you are completely unable to work because of the work injury.

The Act defines an “injury” to include any condition caused by an accident or activity at work. As such, injuries need not be caused by accidents alone. Injuries caused by having to do the same thing over and over, such as typing with your back bent or injuries cause by abnormal working conditions, would also qualify as an “injury.”

What benefits can you receive under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law?

Depending on your injury, you may be entitled to any one or more of the following benefits:

  • Medical benefits. This would typically include the cost of obtaining medical treatment for the injury.
  • Wage benefits. You are generally entitled to compensation of up to two-thirds, sometimes more, of your average weekly wage. These benefits are not taxable.
  • Death benefits. This would be applicable only in the event of death caused by a wok-related injury. These benefits would be paid to the family or survivors of the employee.
  • Scarring benefits. This compensation is applicable in the event of disfigurement caused by work injury.
  • Specific loss benefits. If loss of limbs is involved, compensation would be payable for that specific loss. This does not mean that the whole limb must be lost though. It would suffice if it is shown that it has been made useless for the job.

How can you obtain workers’ compensation?

The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law requires that workers who suffer any work-related injury must report the injury to their employer within 120 days – this period starts to run from the date of the injury.  You should always report a work-related injury to your employer, and make sure that an accident report is generated.

Your employer then either accepts or denies the claim. If the claim is denied, you can file a lawsuit to establish your work-related claim. You do this by filing a Claim Petition.

While there is no law that says you can’t fight for the claim on your own, it is generally a good idea to get in touch with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney from the moment you get injured.  The experienced worker’s compensation lawyers at Zwick Law understand how vital quality representation is to your claim.  We are prepared to review your situation and take over the time-consuming and stressful task of negotiating and fighting for you.

For questions relating to a work-related injury, contact Matthew R Zwick, partner of Zwick Law, at (814) 371-6400 or mrz@zwick-law.com, to schedule a legal consultation and free case analysis.  At Zwick Law, we’re always here for you.[1]

 

[1] Disclaimer: The use of the Internet, Facebook and/or any other form of social media communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.  Time-sensitive information should be directed immediately to the office of Zwick Law at (814) 371-6400.

 

Zwick Law Develops New Pennsylvania Adverse Possession Law in Weible v. Wells, 156 A.3d 1220

By decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Matthew R. Zwick, founding partner of Zwick Law, representing Elizabeth “Louise” Wells and her late husband, William Wells, prevailed on appeal, reversing the trial court’s decision regarding the application of the adverse possession doctrine in Pennsylvania.  The Weible v. Wells decision (reported at 156 A.3d 1220) establishes and creates clear legal principles and guidelines for applying the doctrine of adverse possession in Pennsylvania.

In this case, the Superior Court was tasked with deciding whether the statutorily prescribed period to adversely possess land in Pennsylvania is tolled (paused) or started anew (reset) when property is owned and used for a public purpose by political subdivisions (i.e., counties, townships, boroughs, etc.) during the 21-year statute of limitations for the title owner of the land to file an ejectment action against the adverse possessor.  The Superior Court, agreeing fully with Attorney Zwick, held that the 21-year statutory period was merely tolled, and did not completely reset, under the circumstances presented in this case.

Case Background

This civil case was commenced by Rodger Weible, Louise’s next door neighbor, in August 2009, when Weible filed a complaint in ejectment against Louise and her husband, arguing that the Wellses installed landscaping and a driveway that allegedly encroached upon a portion of Weible’s yard.

Louise and her husband purchased their home in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, in August 1965. Thereafter, the Wellses caused landscaping and a driveway to be installed at their residence in 1974 and 1979, respectively.  The Wellses’ landscaping and driveway remained in substantially the same condition and configuration from the respective dates of installation through the time of trial in September 2015 (and as of the date of this article).

From May 30, 1995 through December 22, 1998, the property now owned by Weible was owned by Jefferson County and Clearfield County, political subdivisions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, operating through the Clearfield-Jefferson Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program.  Weible purchased the property from Jefferson and Clearfield Counties by deed dated December 22, 1998.

The Wellses and Weible lived next to each other without incident until 2008.  In 2008, a tree fell and caused damage to powerlines surrounding the residential lots.  Louise and her husband offered to pay the Borough of Reynoldsville to repair the powerlines; however, they were informed that the fallen tree had come from Weible’s property and that they were not responsible for the cost of repairs.  After the Borough attempted to collect payment from Weible for the damage, Weible hired a local surveyor to survey his property to delineate the boundary line between his lot and the lot owned by the Wellses.  When Weible discovered that the Wellses’ landscaping and driveway appeared to encroach upon property that he believed he owned, Weible requested that the Wellses remove the landscaping.  The instant legal battle ensued.

The Trial Court Proceedings

Weible’s civil complaint was intended to eject, or remove, the Wellses and their landscaping and driveway from the disputed property.  The Wellses raised the defense of adverse possession and countersued Weible asserting ownership of the property in question by virtue of adverse possession.  After a non-jury trial on September 11, 2015, the trial court of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, found that, because Weible had received his residential lot from a political subdivision (i.e., Jefferson and Clearfield Counties), the Wellses were required to establish their exclusive, adverse possession of the property for 21 years from the date of conveyance from the Counties to Weible in 1998.

As twenty-one (21) years had not passed when Weible filed suit against the Wellses in 2009, the trial court ordered the Wellses to be ejected from the property.  Louise Wells, represented by Zwick Law, appealed this decision by the lower court.

What is Adverse Possession?

The doctrine of adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a trespasser – sometimes a stranger, but more often a neighbor – to gain legal title over land that was once owned by someone else.  The doctrine has developed as a way to achieve a fair result when a land owner has neglected or forgotten about a piece or portion of land, while another has been in possession of and using the land for an extended period of time, such that forcing that person, i.e., the adverse possessor, to depart or vacate the land would create hardship and/or inequity.

Adverse possession in Pennsylvania is established based on the character of a trespasser’s possession and the length of time he possesses the land in question. Under Pennsylvania law, to sustain a claim for title to real property through adverse possession, a litigant must prove her actual, continuous, open, notorious, exclusive, distinct, hostile, and adverse possession of the property in dispute for a period in excess of twenty-one (21) years.

Adverse Possession

While actions in ejectment are commonly employed by the rightful owner of land to recover property from those who have unauthorized possession of the disputed land, the rightful owner must commence an action in ejection within 21 years from the initial date of the unauthorized use.

The Superior Court Appeal

On appeal, Attorney Zwick successfully briefed and argued that Louise and her husband had adversely possessed and exclusively used the disputed property for 21 continuous years without actual interruption by Weible or any of his predecessors-in-interest.  Upon review and oral argument, the Superior Court agreed and reversed the trial court’s decision, ruling that, although the disputed property had been owned by the Counties from 1995 through 1998, during which time the Counties would have been immune from claims of adverse possession themselves, the 21-year statutory period was merely tolled (or paused), rather than reset due to the Counties’ ownership.  The statutory clock began to run again once the disputed property returned to Weible’s private ownership.

Newly Established Law on Adverse Possession

Thus, because the landscaping and driveway that were installed by Louise and her husband in the mid- to late-1970s remained in the same place and configuration through the date of trial in 2015, the Wellses “adversely” possessed the disputed property for well over 21 years.  The Superior Court, therefore, reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for entry of an order vesting ownership of the disputed property in Louise Wells by virtue of adverse possession.

On behalf of its client, Zwick Law clarified and developed new adverse possession case law in Pennsylvania.  This case illustrates how important it is to have aggressive attorneys fighting for you.  The skilled litigation attorneys at Zwick Law are dedicated to preserving the legal rights of our clients. For a free consultation and case analysis, contact either our DuBois or Brookville office today.  At Zwick Law, we are always here for you.

Zwick Law client, JCDC, helps create jobs in Jefferson County

Zwick Law is excited to share news that its client, Jefferson County Development Council, Inc. (“JCDC”), has closed on the sale of the former Days Inn property in Brookville, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.  The property will serve as the new home of Legacy Truck Centers’ (“Legacy”) newest heavy-duty truck dealership.

The former Days Inn property, which is located just off Exit 78 of Interstate 80 in Brookville, has been a blighted, hazardous property in Jefferson County for quite some time.  Zwick Law has worked closely with JCDC and its executive director, Brad Lashinsky, over the past several months to remove the blighted property and public health hazard from our community.  The sale of the former Days Inn property to Legacy has accomplished that goal.

Legacy’s purchase of the property is beneficial to Jefferson County, not only because it will eliminate a public health risk, but also because Legacy plans to create quality jobs right here in Jefferson County.  According to reports, Legacy intends to swiftly demolish the building and construct a state-of-the-art facility in its place. Legacy’s new heavy-duty truck facility will create a significant number of quality jobs in the area.

To hear more about this exciting news, check out WJAC’s story here.

Zwick Law is a full-service law firm with offices in DuBois and Brookville, Pennsylvania, that assists businesses and individuals in Western Pennsylvania.  Click here to learn more about the professional, trusted services that Zwick Law offers to clients each and every day.