In Cahill v. Fritz and Hartford Insurance Company, C.P. Monroe County (January 13, 2015, Willamson,J.),Plaintiff’s asserted negligence and punitive damages claims against Defendant Fritz and a UIM claim against Defendant Hartford. The action arose from an automobile accident in which the defendant struck the plaintiff’s vehicle while DUI. Defendant Hartford filed preliminary objections to Plaintiff’s Complaint asserting that the negligence/punitive damages claims were improperly joined with the claim for UIM benefits. Defendant Hartford claimed that the negligence/punitive damages claims did not arise out of the same transaction, occurrence or series of occurrences and did not involve common questions of law affecting the liabilities of all defendants. Defendant Hartford also claimed prejudice in having the UIM claim joined together with the claim for punitive damages.
The trial court denied the preliminary objections and explained that since the Pennsylvania Supreme Courts decision in Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, Inc. v. Koken, 889 A.2d 550 (Pa. 2005), which eliminated the requirement for arbitration clauses in uninsured and underinsured insurance policies, the decisions of the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas have been split on the issue of joining the third-party tort claims with the plaintiff’s own UM/UIM claim in one cause of action. The trial court held that since the claims against the defendant driver and the claims against the defendant insurer arose out of the same accident and plaintiff was seeking damages for the same injuries, the claims were properly joined.
The trial court further held that following the completion of discovery, if it were found that the joinder of the claims would cause undue prejudice to Defendant Hartford because of the claim of punitive damages, the claims could be severed at the time of trial pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 213(b).