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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Decision in Lipsky v. State Farm

Ezra Wohlgelernter and Tom Martin represented the Lipsky family in a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from witnessing the death of a close relative who was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

An evenly split six-justice Pennsylvania Supreme Court has let stand the Superior Court ruling that emotional distress from witnessing a family member killed by a car is a distinct injury and covered under an auto insurance policy. The panel upheld a Philadelphia trial court’s ruling that the definition of “bodily injury” in State Farm’s policy agreement was ambiguous enough to allow for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) to be included as a bodily injury, but the appellate court did so on slightly different grounds.

The Superior Court found that the definition wasn’t ambiguous, but rather was simply broad enough to include emotional harm without physical injury, according to the memorandum opinion written by then-President Judge Correale F. Stevens. Stevens is now a state Supreme Court justice, but did not participate in the high court’s consideration or decision in the case.

As to the second issue of individual claims, Stevens said in the opinion that “nothing in the language of the State Farm policy departs from the common-law understanding that the injury contemplated in such a NIED claim results not from the bodily injuries suffered by the accident victim but from the claimant’s witnessing the accident from nearby.”