Dwyer v. Ameriprise Financial, No. 2 WAP 2023 (Pa. April 25, 2024) (Op. by Wecht, J.) (Brobson, J., Concurring and Dissenting)

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds that Trial Courts May Award Treble Damages Without Regard to a Punitive Damages Award on Related Common-Law Claims

Following a jury trial, the plaintiffs were awarded punitive damages against their life insurance company, the defendant Ameriprise Financial, on common-law claims of negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the trial court erred by failing to consider awarding treble damages based on the defendant's violation of Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) in addition to punitive damages for fraud. Justice Wecht authored the Majority decision and reasoned that, where an innocent consumer is harmed by fraudulent or deceptive consumer transactions, the consumer (i.e., plaintiffs) should not receive less under the UTPCPL just because the plaintiffs were also awarded punitive damages in relation to their common law claims. Moreover, it was held that the availability of the statutory remedy under the UTPCPL does not depend in any respect upon either the award of punitive damages on common law claims or upon the award of statutory attorneys' fees.

The case was remanded to the trial court with direction to reassess whether the plaintiffs should receive augmented damages under the UTPCPL in a manner consistent with Justice Wecht’s opinion.

In summary, the court ruled that the availability of treble damages under the UTPCPL is independent of any entitlement to punitive damages. As such, the trial court must consider the award of treble damages without regard to a punitive damages award on related common law claims. The court further held that nullifying the availability of a statutory award because of a common law award is not a permissible exercise of discretion. 

While we should be mindful of this decision, please note that this was not a statutory bad faith case. It was a negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation case, with a corresponding UTPCPL claim. Thus, while the plaintiffs’ attorneys may attempt to use it as persuasive leverage in bad faith cases, there are critical distinctions that can be raised by insurers. 


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