|Coverage reduction does not need
� For a free copy of the opinion in Lewis v. Erie Insurance Exchange
contact Kristy Mitchell ([email protected]).
A request for reduced UM/UIM coverage does not need to be on a separate page, the state Supreme Court ruled in Lewis v. Erie Insurance Exchange on March 21. Justice Thomas G. Saylor wrote the opinion for the court.
According to the opinion, in 1992, Robert and Linda Lewis obtained auto insurance through Erie. The opinion stated that on the declarations page, the policy provided for �bodily injury liability coverage limited to $500,000 per person and per accident; uninsured motorist (�UM�) and underinsured motorist (�UIM�) coverage with limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident; and stacking of UM and UIM benefits by virtue of multiple vehicle premium payments.� Robert Lewis signed the form in both the UM and UIM sections labeled �Reduced Limits of [UM/UIM] Motorist Protection� as the first named insured. He did not sign the waiver/rejection of coverage and stacking section.
The initial lawsuit stemmed from an incident in 1997, where Lewis� son was injured in an accident while riding in a car insured by a different company. The Lewises� son was covered under the Erie policy by a resident relative clause. Erie extended coverage of $100,000 after stacking, as stated in the declarations page. The Lewises argued that coverage should be extended to the bodily injury liability limits, as the UM/UIM form did not comply with Section 1731 of the MVFRL, which mandates �that an insurer must provide forms for waiver/rejection of such offerings printed on separate pages pertaining to each form of coverage waived.�
The Superior Court reversed a decision by a common pleas court, saying that the issue in the case was �whether policies issued under Section 1734 must comply with the technical requirements of Section 1731 in order to effect a valid election of reduced UM/UIM coverages under Section 1734.� In its opinion, the Superior Court focused on the legislative requirements for insurers to offer UM/UIM coverage. Under the MVFRL, insurers must offer UM/UIM coverage in the same amount as bodily injury liability limits, unless a reduction in coverage is requested by the insured. According to the Supreme Court opinion, the majority in the Superior Court �applied its own, plain-meaning interpretation of Section 1734, concluding that its requirement of a written request to implement specific UM/UIM coverage limits does not incorporate Section 1731�s technical requirements, which apply solely to instances of outright waiver/rejection.�
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the Lewises argued that the single-page options form would have been invalid under Section 1731 (c.1) had Lewis elected the waiver/rejection of UM/UIM coverage. Lewis stated that the controlling question, then, is whether a form that is void for one purpose can be valid for another. Lewis contended that under Section 1731 (c.1), the waiver/rejection is not only void, but the entire form is void.
Erie countered that Lewis did not deny that he made an express, written request for a reduction in limits; he did not argue the wording of the forms he signed; or claim that Erie violated specific parts of Section 1734. Erie referred to Salazar and Donnelly in its argument, saying a ruling in favor of Lewis would be contrary to the court�s ruling in those cases. Erie also maintained that Section 1731 only invalidates rejections of coverage and a request for lower coverage is not a rejection.
The Supreme Court stated that Section 1731 waiver/rejection is not a prerequisite to Section 1734 specific-limits election. �The Lewis panel properly viewed this construction as dicta in relation to the disposition and took the opportunity to correct it. We hold, therefore, that the technical and remedial prescriptions of Section 1731 (c.1), as such, apply solely in circumstances in which an insurer attempts to enforce outright waiver/rejection of UM/UIM coverage. Accordingly, Section 1731 (c.1) does not impede enforcement of Mr. Lewis� Section 1734 specific-limits election, although multiple elections were accomplished on a single page, on which unrealized Section 1731 (b) and (c) waiver/rejection language also appeared.�
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