THE SUPERIOR COURT REDUCES AWARDS IN MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS BY THE AMOUNT OF UNDERINSURED BENEFITS RECEIVED
The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently examined payouts individuals injured in automobile accidents receive. In Pennsylvania, drivers are required by law to be insured. Of course, there are drivers who violate the law, and drivers who obey the law but carry only the minimum amount of coverage. When drivers carry underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, they protect themselves against having to pay expenses that are not covered by the drivers who hit them. The injured drivers with such coverage can collect UIM monies and then sue the drivers who hit them for the full scope of their damages including their pain and suffering.
In Pusl v. Means, the Superior Court considered how to balance, on the one hand, monies paid by insurance companies providing injured drivers with UIM coverage, against, on the other, monies juries award the drivers for all of their damages. The issue before the court was whether to reduce the jury verdicts by the UIM benefits already paid.
The case arose out of a car accident in which Means negligently drove a G&J Welding & Machine Company vehicle into Pusl, who then brought suit against Means and G&L to recover for her injuries. Prior to trial, Pusl settled her claims against her UIM carrier for $75,000 in benefits. Pennsylvania evidentiary rules keep this kind of information from the jury, which awarded Pusl $100,000.
After the trial, Means and G&L filed a motion to change (in legal terms “mold”) the jury verdict to reflect Pusl’s receipt of the $75,000 in UIM benefits. The trial court granted the motion and molded her award to $25,000. She appealed the decision, as it effectively lowered her recovery by the amount of UIM monies she had received, but the Superior Court affirmed. The Superior Court reasoned that the molding prevented Pusl from obtaining a windfall: the double recovery of her already paid UIM monies.
After Pusl, injured drivers who receive UIM monies should think hard before taking their personal injury cases to verdict. They can expect their verdicts to be reduced by the amount of UIM monies they have been paid.
This underscores the importance of hiring the right legal counsel. An injured driver should look for an attorney capable of assessing the dollar value of their case. Equally importantly, the attorney should be familiar with the latest decisions that may impact the case’s value, such as Pusl. Parties sued in motor vehicle cases should look for attorneys who have these same skill sets, who are also familiar with the procedures to reduce verdicts in accordance with the law. The right attorney will raise Pusl and related issues early in the case, so as to reach accord on the case’s potential settlement value and plan case strategy.