An adjuster obtained a general release from his company's policyholders before they sued for their injuries under their own policy. They were injured in an auto accident. The person who caused the accident was also insured with their same carrier.
Unfortunately for the policyholders, they do not speak English and they signed the general release which, in English of course, barred all their claims on the policy. They signed because they understood that it was their receipt for a claims check the adjuster gave them. They sued the carrier anyway, alleging fraud in the way in which their carrier's adjuster obtained the general release.
The trial judge entered summary judgment in favor of the carrier. He held that the general release means what it says and the policyholders' claims against the company are all released. As for the policyholders not being able to read or understand the true contents of the release before they signed it, the trial judge found as a fact that the policyholders' English-speaking daughter had been present or perhaps available by telephone when the release was presented and signed, and that whether she was present in person or by telephone, that she advised her parents on what was in the release and in either event there could be no fraud as a result of her 'availability'.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the summary judgment and remanded for a jury trial on the issue of fraud. That was their first and foremost ground for reversal: Fraud is an issue of fact and in this case the issue of fraud-in-the-release was a jury question which precludes summary judgment for the carrier. The appellate court listed many cases decided over the course of centuries in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that fraud not only prevents a document from barring claims but that fraud is a jury question in cases like this one.
As for the English-speaking daughter advising her parents-policyholders on the contents of the release before they signed it, the appellate court reviewed the record and found that the evidence was not in dispute that the policyholders' daughter was not even present when her parents signed the release of the insurance company and that she was available by telephone at work, briefly, and the release was not even mentioned in the conversation with her mother at that time (as if being on the telephone was the same as being present to read the release to her parents in any case).
So, to summarize, under Pennsylvania law fraud is a bar to immunity under a release. Under the facts of this particular case, if the policyholders' English-speaking daughter was not even in the same room as the release when her parents signed the carrier's release then, simply stated, she could not have advised them about it. The case is Del Pielago v. Orwig, No. 156 MDA 2016, 2016 WL 6835558 (Pa. Super. Ct. November 21, 2016).
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