Can Pedestrians Recover From Automobile Insurance Policies?
During the holiday season in Pennsylvania, many adults and children are walking on busy thoroughfares to participate in holiday activities. Unfortunately, even with safeguards in place, pedestrians may be struck by motor vehicles. When a relatively defenseless traveler is struck by a thousand-plus pound vehicle traveling at a greater rate of speed, the injuries will likely be serious and the medical expenses cumbersome. In the face of such burden and stress, it is important to know what options may be available to alleviate the medical costs.
Pennsylvania enacted the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL), which restricts the recovery of individuals who have limited tort insurance coverage. This law applies to motor vehicle drivers and passengers involved in a car accident who were not seriously injured. The question of whether pedestrians were included in this limitation was litigated through a series of appeals, and it was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 2005 with L.S. v. Eschbach.
The underlying facts of the litigation involved an 11-year-old student who was exiting her school bus and walking down the sidewalk. When she attempted to cross an intersection, one car stopped for her, but another car in the opposing lane struck her, causing bruises, cuts, and broken bones. The child’s mother was an insured driver with a policy in accordance with MVFRL. Through the mother, the injured daughter pursued a negligence action against the bus driver and the owner of the bus company for failing to follow and comply with the applicable school bus unloading procedures. The driver and owner filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the injured student was unable to recover as a dependent covered under a policy subject to the MVFRL, since she was in a “motor vehicle accident.” The defendants argued that her injuries were not serious and thus not subject to the exception that lifts the bar to further civil action.
The trial court and Superior Court of Pennsylvania both agreed with the defendants upon their reading of the MVFRL. The injured student appealed, arguing that as a pedestrian she was outside the scope of the MVFRL. The Supreme Court looked at the legislative intent of the MVFRL, focusing on the absence of pedestrians in the statutory language of the MVFRL. The court looked at the wider obligation of policy providers to notify consumers so they could make an informed decision. The legislative intent of the MVFRL was to reduce the rising cost of auto insurance premiums while requiring fiscal responsibility. The court reasoned that including pedestrians with motorists and passengers would defeat the goal of what the MVFRL hoped to achieve: deterring individuals from failing to insure their vehicles. The court saw the act of punishing pedestrians by limiting their legal recourse would be counterintuitive to the goal of the MVFRL. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s ruling and allowed the injured student to proceed with her actions against the bus driver and bus company.
While L.S. v. Eschbach helped protect the rights of injured pedestrians to pursue all avenues of tort relief, it does not provide a map of what to do in all instances of injury. The attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the Pennsylvania personal injury litigation experience you need to pursue recovery. For a free, confidential consultation, call today at (570) 344-1266.