Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns Conahan ruling of an underinsured motorist arbitration case


5The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court has returned a controversial ruling that had been issued by corrupt former Luzerne County judge Michael Conahan to decide if a $500, 000 awards should be restored in an underinsured motorist arbitration case.

This ruling was issued in the Forester Vanderhoff vs. Harleysville Insurance case last Wednesday, and it reinstates the 2004 ruling that had been issued by Conahan that allowed the case to be brought to arbitration. This is one of the many underinsured motorist arbitration rulings that is part of the corruption probe that is ongoing in the Luzerne County, with federal authorities having seized many records and documents relating to them last year. Harlesville had also been asked to provide the public records regarding this case.

The Vanderhoff vs. Harleysville Insurance case revolved around the claims of a so-called “phantom vehicle” having caused the car crash last October 2001 where Vanderhoff rear-ended another car on the Sans Souci Parkway at Hanover Township.

Vanderhoff was driving his company truck on the said road when he rear-ended into Ryan Piotkowski’s car at the traffic light intersection. According to Vanderhoff, he only took his eyes off the road for a few second after he started driving when the light had turned green, then he saw Piotkowski’s car had halted in front of him and he tried to stop his truck but he still ended up hitting the other car.

Vanderhoff believed that Piotkowski had stopped his car to avoid hitting an unidentified car in front of them. But Piontkowski said that there was no such car, and even a police officer who had investigated the accident also said there was no mention of such an unidentified car. Vanderhoff only mentioned this “phantom vehicle” several months after the accident when he saw the police report and noticed the omission of the unidentified vehicle.

Conahan found Vanderhoff’s version of the car crash more credible, and he ruled that the driver had proven that the unidentified vehicle did exist. This is what permitted the case to be brought to a three-member arbitration panel, in which the panel awarded Vanderhoff with the $500, 000. But the state Supreme Court overturned the ruling last 2006 because Vanderhoff did not report about the “phantom vehicle” within 30 days of the car crash as the law states.

Both parties see this state Supreme Court ruling as a victory. Vanderhoff would have the chance to restore the overturned judgement, according to his attorney Brian Corcoran. Whereas Harleysville would also have the chance to show evidence that the company had is also been harmed by Vanderhoff’s delay to report about the unidentified vehicle.

Corcoran also added that this ruling is a victory for other auto insurance policyholders because it shows that the insurance carrier must show that he or she had suffered some harm, and could not deny payment just because the insured was late in notifying a claim to the carrier.