LUCCA v. GEICO INSURANCE COMPANY
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION SETTING FORTH THE REASONS WHY THE COURT IS GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE (DOCKET NO. 19.) AN APPROPRIATE ORDER FOLLOWS. SIGNED BY HONORABLE GENE E.K. PRATTER ON 7/7/16. 7/7/16 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(rab, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DARREN T. LUCCA,
GEICO INS. CO.,
JULY 7, 2016
Darren Lucca sued his insurer Geico Insurance Company (“Geico”) for refusing to
provide underinsured motorist benefits after he was injured in an April, 2011 car accident. As
trial approaches, the only issue remaining in the case is the extent of the damages attributable to
the accident. Geico has moved in limine to exclude any testimony or other evidence relating to
the underinsured motorist policy limits and the amount of premiums paid for the policy, arguing
that those facts are not relevant to the limited issue to be decided by the jury. Mr. Lucca opposes
the motion, contending that the case is one for breach of contract and the details of the contract
provide relevant background information for the jury. After discussing the motion at a
conference in Chambers and giving the parties an opportunity to resolve the issue without Court
intervention, the parties have informed the Court that they are unable to come to a compromise.
Thus, the issue is ripe for decision, and the Court will grant Geico’s motion.
On April 8, 2011, Plaintiff Darren Lucca was involved in a car accident due to the
negligence of another motorist, causing him to suffer various personal injuries. At the time, his
car was insured by Defendant Geico. As part of his policy, Mr. Lucca had underinsured motorist
benefits. The other motorist had $100,000 in coverage through his insurance carrier, which Mr.
Lucca alleges was insufficient to cover his injuries.
On January 8, 2015, Mr. Lucca sought Geico’s consent to settle his claim with the other
motorist’s insurer for $75,000. He also sought underinsured motorist benefits from Geico.
Geico denied his claim, believing that Mr. Lucca had received $75,000 from the other motorist’s
insurance as an award in binding arbitration, not in settlement, and that therefore the other
motorist was not underinsured.
Mr. Lucca initially filed a three-count Complaint, alleging bad faith, violations of
Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, and breach of contract, in
state court. In that Complaint, he sought compensatory damages, treble damages (under Count
II), punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Geico removed the Complaint to this Court and
moved to dismiss the bad faith claim. Before that motion was ripe, the parties stipulated to the
dismissal of that claim without prejudice. Later, the parties also stipulated to the dismissal of the
Pa UTPCPL claim, leaving only the breach of contract claim.
The parties’ remaining dispute is solely about the value of Mr. Lucca’s claim because
liability will not be contested. Mr. Lucca outlines various items of damages in his pretrial
memo, including wage loss, loss of future earning capacity, co-pays and prescriptions, and other
medical bills. Geico filed a motion in limine, asking the Court to bar Mr. Lucca from offering
evidence or testimony regarding the amount of underinsured motorist coverage provided for in
the insurance policy at issue or regarding the amount of any premiums paid for the coverage. In
the alternative, Geico asks that if the Court deems that evidence relevant and not prejudicial, the
Court should also allow Geico to introduce evidence regarding the third party tortfeasor’s
insurance limits and the amount of the settlement with the third party tortfeasor. Mr. Lucca
opposes the motion.
“Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, subject to certain limitations, all evidence is
admissible if it is relevant, i.e., if it tends to make the existence or nonexistence of a disputed
material fact more probable than it would be without that evidence.” Forrest v. Beloit Corp., 424
F.3d 344, 355 (3d Cir. 2005); see Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence
403, a court may nonetheless exclude relevant evidence if the probative value of the evidence is
“substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or
misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation
of cumulative evidence.” Forrest, 424 F.3d at 355 (quoting Fed R. Evid. 403). To exclude
evidence under Rule 403, “the probative value of the evidence must be ‘substantially
outweighed’ by the problems in admitting it.” Id. (quoting Coleman v. Home Depot, Inc., 306
F.3d 1333, 1343–44 (3d Cir.2002)). However, “prejudice does not simply mean damage to the
opponent’s cause.” Goodman v. Pa. Turnpike Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 670 (3d Cir.2002)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Only “unfair prejudice,” or “prejudice of the sort which
cloud[s] impartial scrutiny and reasoned evaluation of the facts, which inhibit[s] neutral
application of principles of law to the facts as found,” can tip the scales in favor of
inadmissibility. Ansell v. Green Acres Contr. Co., 347 F.3d 515, 525 (3d Cir. 2003) (emphasis
Until the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued its decision in Ins. Fed’n of Pa., Inc. v.
Koken, 889 A.2d 550 (Pa. 2005), insureds were required to arbitrate underinsured motorist
claims. Post-Koken, however, jury trials are available for underinsured motorist claims, and
heretofore unexplored issues regarding how trials in such matters should be conducted have
arisen. Geico, in its motion in limine, presents one of those previously unaddressed issues –
whether information about an insured’s coverage limits and paid premiums is relevant, nonprejudicial evidence that may be introduced when the jury’s only task is to determine the amount
of damages incurred by the insured.
Geico, not surprisingly, argues that the $900,000 policy limit and amount of premiums
paid by Mr. Lucca’s stepfather are irrelevant, or at least unfairly prejudicial. Geico argues that
although this is technically a breach of contract action, what is left to decide is much like a tort
action, in that although the insured is making a “first party” claim, the value of the claim is based
on “third party” principles of liability, causation, and damages. Geico contends that neither the
amount of coverage nor the amount paid in premiums have any bearing on how severe Mr.
Lucca’s injuries were. Geico points out that once a verdict is rendered, the Court can mold the
verdict if necessary based on the amount of coverage and the policy limit of the underinsured
tortfeasor. Geico likens this situation to claims against a tortfeasor who has insurance coverage,
in which policy limits are not admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 411. Geico also
argues, in the alternative, that if this evidence comes in, then Geico should be allowed to offer
evidence as to the underinsured tortfeasor’s coverage and the amount of that settlement.
Case law regarding this issue in Pennsylvania is almost nonexistent, as both sides
acknowledge. 1 The one reported federal decision on the issue permitted the evidence to be
Other jurisdictions, however, have considered this issue. See, e.g., Fahey v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 49
Conn. App. 306, 314, 714 A.2d 686, 690 (1998) (“Other jurisdictions which have addressed this issue
have concluded that in uninsured and underinsured motorist cases, where the policy provisions
themselves are not an issue, that it is error to admit into evidence the [underinsured] motorist policy limits
and to allow counsel to argue an entitlement to recover those insurance policy proceeds,” and citing Auto–
Owners Insurance Co. v. Dewberry, 383 So. 2d 1109 (Fla. App. 1980); Harvey v. Mitchell, 522 So. 2d
introduced. See Noone v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co., No. 3:12cv1675, 2013 WL 8367579, at *2
(M.D. Pa. May 28, 2013). However, the Noone court simply reasoned that the information
would give the jury background information about the policy and help them understand the case
without explaining how that background information would be helpful to the jury or to what
disputed issue in the case the information related. In that case, evidence of the coverage limits
for both the tortfeasor’s and the plaintiff’s insurance policy was permitted, as well as evidence of
the amount the plaintiff received from the tortfeasor and the amount the plaintiff paid in
premiums for the plaintiff’s own insurance.
Mr. Lucca relies heavily on Noone in his response, but without setting forth any
principled reasons of his own regarding why the evidence is relevant or not unduly prejudicial.
Instead, he simply parrots Noone’s statement that the information will provide the jury with
background information about the claim. His reliance on Noone is limited, however, to the
inclusion of the policy limits and premiums paid on his own policy. Despite the broad outcome
in Noone, Mr. Lucca argues that the tortfeasor’s policy limits and settlement amount should not
be permitted to come into evidence, arguing that Geico will get a credit for the full amount of the
tortfeasor’s policy limits against any verdict the jury renders. He does not explain why the Court
should not take that same molding approach when it comes to the $900,000 Geico policy limit.
The Court acknowledges that the bar for relevance is low. However, the amounts of the
policy limits and paid premiums, facts that are undisputed and therefore not for the jury to
decide, do not even reach that low bar. The only issue for the jury to decide in this matter is the
771 (Ala. 1988); Jones v. Lingenfelder, 537 So. 2d 1275 (La. App. 2 Cir., 1989); Ponder v. Groendyke
Transport, Inc., 454 So. 2d 831 (La. App. 3d Cir., 1984), writ denied, 457 So. 2d 1195, 1198 (La.1984))
(internal quotation omitted). See also Jackson-Miller v. State Farm Ins. Co., 39 So. 3d 991 (Miss. App.
2010) (holding that trial court did not err in excluding any reference to the amount of uninsured motorist
coverage, as it would have been more prejudicial than probative); Kvamme v. State Farm Mut.
Automobile Ins. Co., 677 N.W.2d 122 (Neb. 2004) (finding reversible error when the trial court allowed
the admission of the amount of coverage available in an uninsured motorist case).
extent of Mr. Lucca’s injuries from the accident. That Mr. Lucca’s policy includes a $900,000
underinsured motorist limit or that his stepfather paid a certain amount in premiums for the
policy does not have “any tendency to make [any fact at issue in this case] more or less probable
than it would be without the evidence.” See Fed. R. Evid. 401. Indeed, not only is the policy
limit irrelevant in this case, introducing evidence of the policy limit may very well serve to
prejudice Geico by giving the jury an anchor number that has no bearing on Mr. Lucca’s
damages. For these reasons, the Court will exclude at trial any mention of the policy limits or
the amount of premiums paid. Once a verdict has been rendered by the jury on the amount of
damages suffered by Mr. Lucca, the Court can mold the verdict appropriately to reflect the limits
of both Mr. Lucca’s policy and the third party tortfeasor’s policy.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant Geico’s Motion in Limine. An appropriate
BY THE COURT:
S/Gene E.K. Pratter
GENE E.K. PRATTER
United States District Judge
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