Doctor's Choice v. Traveler's Personal Ins. (majority)Annotate this Case
This appeal centered on the availability of attorneys’ fee awards against insurance companies that have invoked the peer-review provisions of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). In 2004, Angela LaSelva sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident. She was treated by a licensed chiropractor, David Novatnak, D.C., who practiced with appellee Doctor’s Choice Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, P.C. (“Provider”). Provider submitted invoices for the services directly to LaSelva’s first-party benefits insurance carrier, Appellant Travelers Personal Insurance Company (“Insurer”), as required per the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law. Insurer later requested peer review through IMX Medical Management Services (“IMX”), a peer review organization (“PRO”). IMX, in turn, enlisted Mark Cavallo, D.C., to conduct the peer review. Dr. Cavallo issued a report deeming certain of the treatments provided by Dr. Novatnak to have been unnecessary. Based on this report, Insurer denied reimbursement for the treatment aspects deemed as excessive. Provider opposed this withholding and commenced a civil action against Insurer. Among other things, the complaint alleged that all treatments undertaken through Provider were reasonable and necessary and that the review conducted by IMX did not comport with the mandates of Section 1797 of the MVFRL. Furthermore, Provider asserted that IMX failed to comply with requirements of the Pennsylvania Code directing PROs to apply national or regional norms in their determinations or, where such norms do not exist, to establish written criteria to be used in conducting reviews. As relevant here, the complaint included a specific demand for attorneys’ fees. After a bench trial, the common pleas court entered a verdict in the Provider’s favor, encompassing an award of attorneys’ fees of approximately $39,000. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed the decision to strike the fee award. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court: "the Superior Court’s cryptic pronouncement of 'absurdity' [regarding fee-shifting] that lacks foundation. . . . This Court remains cognizant of the shortcomings of the peer-review regime. We have no reasonable means, however, of assessing the degree to which these may be offset by the benefits of cost containment and potentially lower insurance premiums available to the public at large. Rather, the Legislature is invested with the implements to conduct investigations, hearings, and open deliberations to address such salient policy matters. In such landscape, we decline to deviate from conventional statutory interpretation to advance directed policy aims."