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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Allows Injured Driver to Pursue Claim Against Defendant’s Insurance Company

When you’ve been injured in a Pennsylvania auto accident, you can file a suit to recover the costs stemming from the accident, including lost wages, property damage to your car, and medical bills for the bodily injury sustained. In some cases, punitive (or exemplary) damages may be available to an injured person if the at-fault party’s behavior is particularly outrageous. Most auto accident claims deal with compensatory damages alone, since auto insurance policies exclude covering punitive damages. This means that the insurer, which typically steps in to defend the alleged at-fault party, does not advocate or pay for the driver or policy-holder on any type of punitive damage claim. Under Pennsylvania law, the injured party can pursue a separate claim against the at-fault party for the punitive damages.

In a recent case, Allstate v. Wolfe, a man was struck from behind by a motorist. The injured driver pursued a $25,000 recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, which counter offered $1,200. During the course of investigation and litigation, it was discovered that the at-fault motorist was intoxicated during the accident. The injured driver wanted to pursue punitive damages against the at-fault party, and the insurance company advised the at-fault driver to speak to a personal injury attorney to help defend that claim. No other offers were made by the insurance company to the injured driver.

A jury awarded the injured driver $15,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. The at-fault motorist’s insurance company began to pay the $15,000 in compensatory damages, but the at-fault motorist agreed with the injured driver to assign any award from his bad-faith claim against his insurance company. An insured driver can have a claim against his or her own insurance company if it either refused to defend a lawsuit or improperly refused to pay a judgment or settlement of a covered lawsuit. The injured driver pursued a jury trial against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for the bad faith claim and won the amount of $50,000.

The insurance company appealed, arguing against the assignment of the claim. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania looked at the statutory construction of 42 Pa.C.S. §8371, which allows punitive damages against the insurer for a bad faith claim. Assignment of the claims is not mentioned in the statute. The Supreme Court agreed with the injured driver that, even though it is not mentioned, allowing assignment fulfills the intention of the statute to deter and punish bad-faith actions.

This case shows that it can be an exceedingly complex process to obtain the damages that you, the injured party, deserve. The Pennsylvania car accident attorneys at Needle Law Firm, P.C. have the personal injury experience you need to return to normalcy. Our dedicated lawyers and staff understand the financial challenges you and your family face, and we tirelessly work to provide you the maximum amount of damages available. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 570-344-1266.

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