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Boyd v. Steele

Decided: November 20, 1969.

BERNADINE BOYD AND ALLEN BOYD, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
WALTER WAYNE STEELE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND GLORIA STEELE, SAMUEL THOMPSON AND W. E. NEILL ASSOCIATES, DEFENDANTS



Sullivan, Carton and Halpern. The opinion of the court was delivered by Carton, J.A.D.

Carton

Defendant Walter Steele appeals from an order requiring the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Board to pay $10,000 to plaintiff Bernadine Boyd in partial satisfaction of an uncollected $70,000 judgment in her favor for personal injuries.

Plaintiff, a passenger in an automobile operated by Steele and owned by his wife, defendant Gloria Steele, sustained serious personal injuries when the automobile ran off the highway and struck a house. She brought action to recover for her injuries against the Steeles and also against defendants W. E. Neill Associates, the alleged employer or master of Walter Steele, Samuel Thompson, the operator of another automobile involved in the collision, and Colonial Pipeline Co. Bernadine's husband, Allen Boyd, joined as a party plaintiff in that action seeking to recover damages

representing expenses incurred in caring for his wife and for loss of her services and consortium.

Since the vehicle in which the Steeles were riding was uninsured, defense on their behalf was undertaken through the Fund. W. E. Neill Associates was defended by attorneys for their insurance carrier.

During the course of the trial, the trial judge granted judgments of involuntary dismissal with prejudice as to all defendants except Walter Steele. Before the jury determination, but after the dismissal of the action against W. E. Neill Associates, the latter's insurance carrier, through their attorneys, settled Allen Boyd's claim for loss of his wife's services and consortium for $22,000.

The trial continued against Walter Steele, resulting in the verdict in favor of Mrs. Boyd.

The record leaves much to be desired as to the basis of the husband's settlement. It appears that Mr. Boyd, as a consideration for the payment, executed a covenant not to sue W. E. Neill Associates and that he would not appeal. Mrs. Boyd presumably did not execute a similar convenant. Plaintiff has offered no explanation as to why her claim was not also settled by the same defendant. Yet, she did not appeal despite the severity of her injuries and the likelihood her judgment would be largely uncollectible. Rather than remand the matter to take proofs as to the understanding of the parties concerning the settlement in order to clarify whether Mrs. Boyd may have, in fact, benefitted from the settlement, we have concluded that we should decide the case on the basis of the legal issue involved.

The Fund's position is that the statute in terms fixes a maximum limit of $10,000 which may be paid from the Fund when only one person has sustained personal injuries in a single accident and that the settlement of the husband's claim for an amount in excess of that maximum constituted full payment "by way of settlement" of her claim against the Fund under N.J.S.A. 39:6-70(m) and N.J.S.A. 39:6-71.

The trial court rejected this approach and adopted the view that since the law recognizes a man's relational interest in his wife and gives him a cause of action against one who negligently invades that interest, the husband's claim must be treated as separate and apart from that of his wife. On this basis the trial court concluded that the settlement of the husband's case was not a payment within the purview of the statute and should not be deducted from her claim.

Resolution of the question posed requires an interpretation of the pertinent statutory provisions in the light of the policies underlying the Fund Law. Its purpose has been stated as not to make every claimant whole, but to provide some basic measure of relief from the injured person's absorption of the entire economic loss occasioned by the accident. See Dixon v. Gassert , 26 N.J. 1 (1958); Wormack v. Howard , 33 N.J. 139 (1960). Although the statute is to be liberally construed to advance the remedy it affords, ...


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