On Appeal From the United States District Court
For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania D.C. Civ.No. 96-6238
Before: MANSMANN, NYGAARD, Circuit Judges, and BLOCH, District Judge. *fn*
In this appeal, we are asked to predict whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would permit an employee injured in an on-the-job automobile accident to recover from both workers' compensation as well as from an uninsured motorist plan that his employer voluntarily purchased. The district court held that workers' compensation was the employee's exclusive remedy. Shortly after that ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that state law did not bar an employee's recovery from both workers' compensation and an uninsured motorist plan. Because the Superior Court's reasoning is persuasive, we will reverse.
In May of 1994, Joseph N. DiBartolo was injured while occupying an automobile owned by his employer, Knight-Ridder, Inc. *fn1 At the time of the accident, DiBartolo was acting in the course and scope of his employment. Subsequently, DiBartolo recovered workers' compensation and medical benefits from Knight-Ridder's insurer, Travelers Indemnity Co. of Illinois. Thereafter, he sought uninsured motorist benefits under an automobile insurance policy issued by Travelers to Knight-Ridder, which had voluntarily purchased the policy. Travelers responded by bringing this action for declaratory judgment. Travelers asked the district court to hold that DiBartolo's recovery of workers' compensation benefits after an on-the-job automobile accident precluded his later recovery on the uninsured motorist plan purchased by his employer. In the alternative, Travelers asked the district court to hold that Knight-Ridder had waived uninsured motorist coverage in Pennsylvania. After a pre-trial conference, the district court instructed the parties to file motions solely on the issue of the exclusivity of workers' compensation in Pennsylvania. In its Amended Order of November 25, 1996, the district court granted Travelers' motion for summary judgment. The court did not issue an opinion, but it cited Ducjai v. Dennis, 636 A.2d 1130 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994) (en banc), aff'd, 656 A.2d 102 (Pa. 1995), in its order. DiBartolo took a timely appeal. *fn2
This appeal requires us to determine the effect of the Pennsylvania legislature's 1993 repeal of Section 1735 *fn3 and Section 1737 *fn4 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). Travelers argues that the repeal of these sections of the MVFRL indicated a clear legislative intent. Indeed, when these statutes are read, they seem to have clearly authorized the collection of both workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits. Therefore, the repeal of these statutes would seem to have unambiguously reinstated the general rule that workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy available to employees injured on the job. See 77 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section(s) 481(a). *fn5
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Hackenberg v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 586 A.2d 879 (Pa. 1991), suggests, however, that Travelers' isolated, straightforward reading of Sections 1735 and 1737 is misguided. First, according to the Court in Hackenberg, Section 1737--the statute that, of the two, seemed to extend unequivocally to employees the privilege of receiving both workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits--never affected employers such as DiBartolo's (Knight-Ridder, Inc.) who voluntarily purchased uninsured motorist plans. As the Court noted in Hackenberg, Section 1737 was enacted several years after Section 1735. Id. at 880 n.3. Prior to the enactment of Section 1737, the Court held, Section 1735 did not authorize employees of self-insured employers to receive both workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits. Id. at 885.
In its earlier resolution of Hackenberg, the Pennsylvania Superior Court had noted that state law differentiated between self-insured employers and employers who purchased uninsured motorist plans. Hackenberg v. SEPTA, 558 A.2d 860, 864 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1989). Under its view of the law, injured employees who had received workers' compensation benefits could also recover on uninsured motorist plans that had been purchased by their employers. Id. Nonetheless, injured employees were barred from recovering both types of benefits when their employers were self-insured. Id. The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court's analysis, holding that self-insured employers--in the absence of Section 1737--were under a different set of obligations than were employers who purchased plans. Hackenberg, 586 A.2d at 883-84. The clear implication of Hackenberg is that prior to the enactment of Section 1737, employees could receive workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits from employers' purchased plans. Id. at 883 (discussing insurance policies). If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had thought the Superior Court erred in making the distinction that undergirded its opinion, surely the Supreme Court would have said so. It is clear, however, that the Supreme Court's majority accepted the distinction between self-insured employers and employers who purchased plans. See id. at 885-86 (Cappy, J., concurring and dissenting, arguing that the majority's distinction between self-insured and other employers was irrational and not dictated by law).
Therefore, we learn from Hackenberg that the ability of employees to recover both workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits via employers' purchased plans did not stem from Section 1737. Employees had that ability prior to Section 1737. Indeed, it may be that, if anything, Section 1737 was enacted to ensure that employees whose employers were self-insured would not be penalized by the distinction drawn in Hackenberg and other cases such as Lewis v. School Dist. of Phila., 538 A.2d 862 (1988) (holding that employees of self-insured employers could not, under the pre-MVFRL Uninsured Motorist Act, collect uninsured motorist benefits). See also Hackenberg, 586 A.2d at 883 n.9 (speculating that the legislative purpose behind Section 1737 was to ensure that all employees be able to receive both workers' compensation and uninsured motorist benefits). In any event, as Section 1737 did not affect employers who purchased uninsured motorist plans, Hackenberg suggests that the repeal of Section 1737 could not have had any impact on employees such as DiBartolo.
In Hackenberg, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also made clear that Section 1735 was not the source of the ability of employees to recover from employers' purchased uninsured motorists plans as well as from workers' compensation. There the Court specifically rejected a suggestion that Section 1735 was designed to ensure an employee's access to both workers' compensation and
uninsured motorist benefits. Hackenberg, 586 A.2d at 883 & n.9. Instead, the Court held, Section 1735 was a restriction on what insurers could include in their uninsured motorist plans--plans that employers were then required by law to have, in the absence of self-insurance. Id. at 883. Therefore, the repeal of Section 1735 was required by the legislature's decision to make uninsured motorist plans optional. If, as the Hackenberg opinion suggests, Section 1735 was not the source of an injured employee's recovery of both ...