SEPTEMBER 2011 BAD FAITH CASES COURT MAINTAINS THAT INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR’S ALLEGATIONS DO NOT STATE CAUSE OF ACTION UNDER PA BAD FAITH STATUTE (Philadelphia)

In Nantieh v. First Keystone Risk Retention Group, Inc., the trial judge trial issued an opinion to support his December 2, 2010 decision, which has been appealed.  The case stems from an accident that occurred in 2009, when a driver, operating a taxi as an independent contractor, suffered personal injuries in a car accident.

The driver sought first party benefits under his employer’s insurance policy.  Days after notifying the carrier of this claim, the driver was apprised that he was excluded from coverage and was not permitted to drive vehicles insured by the carrier.

The driver submitted a doctor’s note to the carrier, requesting that he be permitted to operate a taxi under the policy.  His request was denied.  The driver continued to operate a taxi and was involved in a second accident three weeks later.

In February 2009, the driver filed a complaint, alleging that the carrier’s actions, which including prohibiting the driver from operating a taxi and excluding him from coverage under the policy, constituted bad faith..

The carrier filed objections to these claims and the driver subsequently filed an amended complaint.  In the amended complaint, the driver alleged that the carrier excluded him from coverage “in order to dissuade [the driver] from availing himself of benefits for reasonable and necessary medical treatment.”  The driver also claimed that the carrier had “no legitimate basis to exclude him from…operating his taxi,” when he was cleared by a physician to do so.  The trial court dismissed these arguments as contained within the amended complaint.  That ruling is now the subject of a pending appeal.

The trial court ruled that the driver had not specifically claimed that he was denied payment of medical benefits by the carrier.  Moreover, to the extent that the driver was  asserting his right to medical benefits, the only available benefits “would be first party benefits pursuant to the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law 75 Pa.C.S.A. § § 1711.” 

The court reasoned that, under both state and federal precedent, the PMVFRL is the applicable statute in these circumstances, not Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute.  The court concluded that the Pennsylvania legislature intended the “PMVFRL to provide the exclusive first party remedy for bad faith denials by insurance companies.” 

The court also addressed the driver’s second claim – that there was no legitimate basis to exclude him from coverage under the policy and prohibit him from driving a taxi.  The court held that the driver’s “ability to drive has no connection whatsoever to any benefit or coverage provided by the policy.”  Moreover, the driver’s ability to operate a taxi  cannot amount to the denial of any benefit provided under the policy.

The court therefore concluded that the driver’s allegations did not fall within the scope of a proper a bad faith claim.

Date of Decision: December 2, 2010

Nantieh v. First Keystone Risk Retention Group, Inc., Feb. Term 2010, No. 3276, Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Civil Trial Division, 2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 405, 20 Pa. D. & C.5th 13 (Dec. 2, 2010) (Tereshko, J.)