PA SUPREME COURT RULES THAT UNINSURED DRIVERS CAN SUE IN TORT FOR ECONOMIC DAMAGES
(PHILADELPHIA, PA – February 21, 2012) In a landmark decision, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued an opinion, settling unclear lower court decisions, and ruling that an uninsured driver in Pennsylvania who is injured in a motor vehicle accident may sue an insured driver for economic damages.
In Corbin v. Khosla, the Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL) does not preclude an uninsured motorist from suing for economic damages in tort. Under the MVFRL, an uninsured motorist is unable to recover first-party (no fault) benefits resulting from an accident. At the same time, the Court recognized that the MVFRL provides that an uninsured driver is deemed to have elected the “limited tort” option which precludes recovery against a third-party tortfeasor for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages. Indicating that there is a clear distinctions between the first-party no-fault recovery system and the third-party negligence recovery system, the Court ruled that the MVFRL does not prohibit an uninsured driver from recovering his medical expenses via the third-party negligence system against a tortfeasor.
The court explained:
Clearly, Section 1714 [of the MVFRL] precludes uninsured drivers from participating in the first-party benefit system as a sanction or penalty for driving without insurance. This preclusion deprives the uninsured driver of speedy payment of medical and wage loss benefits from any first-party carrier through a direct claim against a policy for no-fault benefits. It does not, however, preclude an uninsured motorist from making a claim for economic damages in tort. Indeed, the MVFRL expressly deems an uninsured motorist to have elected the limited tort option. Thus, the relevant provisions of the MVFRL remove uninsured drivers from any potential participation in the first-party no-fault system, and thrust the uninsured driver into the uncertainty, time and expense required to sue the tortfeasor, establish fault, and recover payment limited to economic damages (and non-economic damages in the event of serious injury) from the tortfeasor’s insurance company under the third-party liability provisions of the insured’s policy
As this ruling has issued from Pennsylvania’s highest court, it is the final word on this issue.
The Supreme Court’s full opinion is available at http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/j-99-2010mo.pdf