In a recent decision, the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania clarified the requirements of reporting a hit-and-run claim to the uninsured motorist benefits insurance carrier.  Smart v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 21-3910 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 12, 2023). The Court denied the insurance company’s Motion for Summary Judgment based on a breach of contract action, finding that the alleged lack of reporting is a factual issue properly decided by the jury.

In Smart, Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle owned by his father that was involved in a hit-and-run accident with a phantom vehicle. He subsequently brought a claim for uninsured motorist benefits (“UM”) under his father’s Allstate policy. The relevant Allstate policy definition for “uninsured auto” included a directive that accidents involving uninsured autos must be reported to both (1) Allstate within 30 days and (2) “the police or proper governmental authority as soon as possible.”  Plaintiff’s counsel initially represented that the accident was not reported to police; however, in an amended response to Allstate’s Request for Admissions, Plaintiff stated that the accident was reported not only to Allstate and but that the police were also immediately contacted, although they did not report to the scene. Plaintiff maintained this position in a later deposition. As part of its ongoing investigation, Allstate subpoenaed Plaintiff’s cellphone records, which revealed that no records pertaining to Plaintiff’s phone number were within the phone carrier’s custody or control. Allstate then denied coverage based on Plaintiff’s failure to report the accident to police in accordance with the policy terms and provisions.

Following initiation of suit by Plaintiff, Allstate filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not establish that Allstate breached a duty imposed by the contract, as the policy explicitly limits availability of UM coverage for hit-and-run accidents to accidents reported to the police or other governmental authority. In reliance on the non-precedential decision in Solomon v. Society of Automotive Engineers, 41 F. App’x 585 (3d Circ. 2002), Allstate argued that Plaintiff could not rely on his testimony alone concerning reporting the accident to the police to create a genuine issue of material fact necessary to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Allstate further argued that the “no records” response from the phone carrier the Plaintiff provided negates his contention that the accident was indeed reported.

The Court refuted Allstate’s argument, pointing out that Solomon relied on Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986), which held that Rule 56(e) permits a summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), including Plaintiff’s deposition testimony. The Court further determined that the no-records certification from the phone carrier did not undermine Plaintiff’s deposition testimony; rather, the Court found that the no-records certification could be interpreted to mean that the carrier simply did not maintain records from nearly three (3) years prior and that the issue of credibility with Plaintiff’s deposition testimony must be left to the jury. Accordingly, the Court denied Allstate’s Motion for Summary Judgment.     

The Smart decision can be found here.

For additional questions, please contact Glen Shikunov, Esq. and/or Scott Tredwell, Esq.

This article was prepared by McCormick & Priore, P.C. to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of McCormick & Priore, P.C.