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Scott Cooper
Scott Cooper
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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules On Rescue Doctrine And UIM Coverage

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Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its Majority and Dissenting opinions in Bole v. Erie Insurance Exchange. This case involves whether the rescue doctrine allows an injured person, in this case a volunteer firefighter responding to a crash, to recover underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits despite a finding that his injuries were the result of a superseding cause.

The specific issue that the Court accepted to review in its grant of allowance for an appeal was:

Whether the Superior Court erred in holding that [Petitioner Ronald] Bole, who was engaged in a rescue, could not recover under the rescue doctrine because the collapse of his bridge, which caused him severe injuries, was the result of a superseding cause when it collapsed as a result of flood waters in a blinding nocturnal rain storm when that same storm caused the original accident and created the rescue situation to which Bole was responding, when:

A. Bole, who like other members of the McKean Volunteer Fire Department resided throughout McKean Township, had been summoned by the original tortfeasor by use of his cell phone for emergency assistance for his critically injured passenger; ?and

B.But for the use of modern telecommunications by which Bole and the other members of his volunteer fire department were summoned, [the original tortfeasor's] Finazzo's passenger would likely not have survived.

In this case a driver was negligent when he crashed his car during a hurricane. While responding to the call, as a rescuer, Bole was injured when a bridge collapsed. The driver was underinsured and Boles made a claim for UIM benefits which were denied by Erie as not being the "cause"of his injuries. Bole argued that the rescue doctrine negated the need to prove proximate cause of his injury and that the rescue doctrine applies whenever the rescuer has a reasonable belief he or she is responding to imminent peril.

The opinion notes that the rescue doctrine makes the original tortfeasor liable, as one would reasonable foresee that rescuers summoned would be injured. However, the opinion goes on the say that "it is quite another matter to make him the guarantor of the rescuer's safety." The Court holds that "the rescue doctrine will not make an original tortfeasor liable for injuries attributable to a superseding cause" and explains further that "a superseding cause must be an act which is so extraordinary as to not have been reasonable foreseeable."

Applying the holding to the facts, the Court finds that since the underlying findings of fact were that the bridge collapsing was not reasonable foreseeable, then it was a superseding cause and Boles cannot recover. If the findings of fact were the opposite then Boles could recover. The Court also notes that although the finding of fact can be reversed it was not contrary to law so it will not reverse the original finding of a superseding cause.

For a copy of the opinions feel free to contact Scott Cooper at Schmidt Kramer in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. He can be reached at scooper@schmidtkramer.com or 717-232-6300.