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Police Officers’ Rights to Underinsured Motorists Benefits

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down 2 decisions on 10/19/11, relating to police officers’ rights to underinsured motorists benefits.

In Williams v. GEICO the Court decided the validity of an exclusion in trooper Williams’ personal automobile insurance policy that denied his claim for underinsured motorists benefits because he was injured while occupying an automobile that he regularly used but don’t own, i.e. his police vehicle. Freeburn Law filed an amicus brief in support of trooper Williams’ appeal on behalf of Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. We argued that this exclusion should be invalidated because it effectively denies Pennsylvania State Police troopers the opportunity to obtain underinsured motorist coverage when they are in their police vehicles. Unfortunately, this exclusion had been previously upheld on numerous occasions on the basis of insurance cost containment, and the Supreme Court upheld the exclusion again in this case. The opinion was authored by Orie Melvin and was joined by Castille,Eakin and Baer. Saylor, Baer and Todd filed concurring opinions. McCaffery joined Todd’s concurring opinion.

In Heller v. Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities the Court went our way. This case involved a police officer with Sugar Creek Borough police department who was injured in the course of his employment. The underinsured motorist coverage provided by his employer contained an exclusion if the claimant was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. In other words, under this exclusion, the perpetrator in the back seat of the police vehicle would be eligible for underinsured motorists benefits because he would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but the but the officer would not be entitled to underinsured motorists benefits because he was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The Court held that this exclusion violated public policy and was invalid. This opinion was authored by Orie Melvin, joined by Eakin, Baer, Todd and McCaffery. Saylor dissented and Castille joined the dissent.

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