If you were recently involved in a Pennsylvania auto accident, and you’ve been struggling to collect money from an insurance company because the driver who hit you (or otherwise caused the accident) lacks insurance coverage (entirely or in part), you might find a recent decision in the case of Bole v. Erie Insurance Exchange enlightening.
The case is actually pretty heartbreaking.
It involves a man named Ronald Bole, a volunteer firefighter, who rushed to the scene of a car crash during a hurricane to help a driver who had been trapped by a collapsed bridge. While engaged in the rescue, Bole suffered injuries from the bridge, but he nevertheless managed to save the passenger, Devin Finazzo. Court reports suggests that, had Bole not intervened, Finazzo likely have been killed during the incident.
Finazzo lacked insurance. So Bole placed a UIM (underinsured motorist) claim to get compensated for his injuries. Even though the bridge collapse – not an auto accident, per se – was the proximate cause of his injuries, Bole said that he should still be able to collect UIM benefits because of something called the rescue doctrine.
Unfortunately for Bole, the court found that it was not foreseeable that the bridge would collapse – “the rescue doctrine will not make an original tortfeasor liable for injuries attributable to a superseding cause … a superseding cause must be an act which is so extraordinary as to not have been reasonably foreseeable.”
Bole’s ultimately fruitless legal path was fraught and full of ups and down.
• First, he faced an arbitration panel, which reached a divided decision about the applicability of the rescue doctrine to his situation. The panel decided that he was not entitled to UIM benefits because he hadn’t been driving.
• A trial court then examined the arbitration panel’s decision and affirmed.
• Bole then appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court, which reversed the trial court’s decision – another divided opinion – and remanded the case back to the arbitration panel.
• The panel reached another split decision – 2 to 1 – “finding that although appellant could reasonably be found to have been engaged in a rescue, the bridge collapsed because of intervening circumstances not attributable to Finazzo,”
• Then both the trial court and Superior Court affirmed, although one judge, Judge Donohue, dissented from the Superior Court’s majority opinion.
A Tangled Mess and Disappointing Outcome
What are lessons that you can learn from Bole’s ordeal, if you or someone you care about has been struggling to collect UM or UIM benefits after a Philadelphia injury accident.
1. Don’t assume that your path to victory will be easy or simple.
Even if the facts are on your side and you can compile a strong case, the law is full of nuances and wrinkles.
2. Your recovery process can be quite long and can be filled with ups and downs.
It is important to try to keep emotionally even keeled during the process: don’t get too excited by good news or too devastated by bad news.
3. The right Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer can make the world a difference.
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