Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Consumer Protection - standard of proof

Boehm v. Riversource Life Insurance – Pa. Super – May 19, 2015



Fraudulent misrepresentation case in connection with the sale of life insurance policies.  Jury found in favor of defendant on common law fraud claim, but court found for plaintiffs in the amount of $295,305.78, including attorneys’ fees and costs.  The Superior Court affirmed.


Liberal construction

1994). “The UTPCPL must be liberally construed to effect the law’s purpose of protecting consumers from unfair or deceptive business practices.” Wallace v. Pastore, 742 A.2d 1090, 1092, 1093 (Pa.Super. 1999), appeal denied, 764 A.2d 1071 (Pa. 2000), citing Hodges v. Rodriguez, 645 A.2d 1340 (Pa.Super. 1994 “In addition, the remedies of the UTPCPL are not exclusive, but are in addition to other causes of action and remedies.” Id. (citations omitted). “The UTPCPL’s ‘underlying foundation is fraud prevention.’” Weinberg v. Sun Co., Inc., 777 A.2d 442, 446 (Pa. 2001), quoting Commonwealth v. Monumental Properties, Inc., 329 A.2d 812, 816 (Pa. 1974).


Standard of proof

Trial court’s use of preponderance standard of proof affirmed.  In the predominant number of civil cases, where only economic and property interests are at stake, the evidentiary burden requires only proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Section 201-9.2 of the UTPCPL, providing for private actions, does not set forth which standard of proof applies, and apparently the matter has never been decided by the Pennsylvania appellate courts. There is no language anywhere in the UTPCPL suggesting that private actions brought pursuant to Section 201-9.2 should be governed by a more demanding standard of proof than proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Moreover, the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof, which is the standard usually applied to remedial legislation, is consistent with the UTPCPL’s purpose of protecting the public from fraud and unfair or deceptive business practices.  The court relied heavily on and quoted liberally from Judge Wettick’s opinion in eck v. Metropolitan Life, 2006 WL 634564 (CCP Allegheny 2006) and cited supporting case law from other states.


Parol evidence – Toy case

The court held that the parol evidence rule did not bar proof of the insurance agents’ misrepresentations, which were alleged to be fraud in the execution of the contract rather than fraud in the inducement.  Toy v. Metropolitan Life, 928 A.2d 186 (Pa. 2007).  The trial court found the the plaintiff’s reliance on the misrepresenations was justifiable and that plaintiff was credible