Monday, October 05, 2009

insurance - rates - Consumer Protection Law - exhaustion of remedies under insurance statutes not required

White v. Conestoga Title Insurance Company - Superior Court - October 2, 2009

Plaintiff need not exhaust admininistrative remedies under the Title Insurance Companies Act (TICA), 40 P.S. sec. 910-1 et seq. or the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA), 40 P.S. 1171.1 et seq., , before bringing an action against an insurance company under the Consumer Protection Law, 73 P.S. sec. 201-1 et seq., based on a claim that the company systematically failed to give plaintiff (and the class) the discounted insurance rates for refinancing transactions, as mandated by the approved rate structure, and thus "engaged in deceptive business practices and pervasively overcharged poilicy charging the highest approved rate, regardless of consumers' qualification for a discounted rate."

The Court relied on its decision in In Pekular v. Eich, 513 A.2d 427 (Pa. Super. 1986), appeal denied, 516 Pa. 635, 533 A.2d 93 (1987), where it held that the UIPA was not an exclusive administrative remedy, even though the alleged actions may fall within its definitional language. The Court ruled that a plaintiff, when not directly or indirectly claiming a violation of the UIPA, could bring a private action under the CPL for statutorily defined wrongs, because “the limited penalties of the [UIPA] do not represent the sole and exclusive deterrent to alleged unfair or deceptive acts of insurers and their agents.” The Court noted that the Pekular decision has been followed by subsequent panels in Wright v. North American Life Assurance Company, 539 A.2d 434 (Pa. Super. 1988) and Hardy v. Pennock Insurance Agency, Inc., 529 A.2d 471 (Pa. Super. 1987).

The Court said that it was "incongruous" for the insurance company "to suggest that the Legislature intended the TICA to control and be the exclusive administrative remedy for claims of unfair and deceptive insurance practices that only tangentially relate to insurance rates, " and that neither the UIPA nor the TICA provided a proper remedy for the wrongs the plaintiff had alleged here. It characterized the defendant's argument as an "attempt to sidestep the consumer protection laws truly at issue here..."