GMR Wins Superior Court Appeal Affirming Philadelphia Trial Court Victory

GMR Partner Jillian Vukson recently won a Superior Court appeal after prevailing at trial last year. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the Philadelphia trial court’s ruling, finding plaintiffs bound by their limited tort election in a contested limited tort case. In a highly disputed limited tort case, Jillian Vukson obtained a defense verdict in which she did not contest liability for her client rear-ending plaintiffs’ vehicle at a traffic light.

Plaintiffs, who were husband and wife, were insured under a limited tort motor vehicle policy. We requested the plaintiffs’ insurance declaration page and tort election forms throughout discovery. Despite discovery requests, plaintiffs failed to produce the requested document during discovery and merely responded they did not recall what forms they signed. We eventually subpoenaed plaintiffs’ insurance policy documents directly from the carrier. In response, the company provided an electronically signed tort election form bearing the electronic signature of the plaintiff wife.

At trial before Judge Carmella Jacquinto, the plaintiffs’ counsel, for the first time, argued that plaintiffs were not subject to limited tort as no signed tort election form had been produced and authenticated by the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the plaintiffs had not authenticated the electronically signed limited tort election form and that the Defendant had not met their burden of proof on the affirmative limited tort defense. Jillian argued that the form had been authenticated as it had been subpoenaed and directly provided by the insurance carrier. Jillian further argued that plaintiff wife had herself admitted during deposition that her policy provided for limited tort coverage. 

Judge Jacquinto found the electronically signed tort election form properly authenticated and held plaintiffs bound by their limited tort policy. Both plaintiffs claimed soft-tissue injuries to their neck and back, and both plaintiffs underwent a similar course of treatment consisting of approximately six (6) months of physical therapy and three (3) evaluations with an orthopedist with herniations confirmed by MRI. After a four-day trial, a jury of eight ultimately found in favor of Jillian’s client, finding that neither plaintiff’s injuries overcame the limited tort threshold. Plaintiffs appealed the verdict, alleging the Court improperly found them bound by their limited tort policy.

In affirming the trial court’s decision and verdict, the Superior Court noted that the plaintiffs had failed to provide the requested policy documents in discovery. The Court further stated that the Defendant obtained the tort election form directly from the subpoena of the plaintiffs’ insurance carrier. The Superior Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the electronically signed tort election form was not valid because the plaintiff wife herself did not authenticate it. The Court additionally noted that the plaintiff admitted at her deposition her policy provided for limited tort coverage, despite later testifying she did not recall all the policy terms or all of the forms she signed. The Superior Court ultimately found the limited tort election form was properly authenticated, and plaintiffs were bound by their limited tort policy.