[111 NJSuper Page 420] In this action plaintiff Frank B. Zuppa seeks recovery against Hertz Corporation (Hertz)
under the terms of a mandatory insurance policy, as specified in N.J.S.A. 45:21-3.
The material facts evinced during the course of the trial are not in dispute. On December 17, 1968 James Jackson entered one of Hertz's local offices at Newark Airport, Newark, New Jersey, and requested the use of an automobile. At the time Jackson had in his possession a credit card issued by Air Travel Co. to one William B. King. Jackson filled out the application card in the name of King, and forged King's signature, using King's credit card.
King had no knowledge of this rental transaction by Jackson, did not consent to his impersonation, and had reported the credit card as lost or stolen as of December 7, 1968. This report was confirmed in writing by King to Air Travel Co. on December 9, 1968.
Hertz, relying on the representations as set forth in the application form and being unaware of the perpetrated fraud, furnished an automobile to Jackson. The only investigation made by Hertz before renting the automobile was to check the monthly cancellation list; no other precautionary procedures were established by the credit card company at that time. The rental agreement provided that the motor vehicle was to be returned on December 31, 1968.
Jackson did not return the automobile on the return date. On January 7, 1969 Jackson was driving the Hertz motor vehicle on Exit Road at its intersection with Port Street, Newark, New Jersey, when he proceeded through a red light and struck plaintiff's automobile.
Thereafter plaintiff instituted suit against Hertz as owner and Jackson as operator, and recovered a judgment in the amount of $1,700 against Jackson alone. Jackson has since absconded, his whereabouts being unknown.
The nonliability of Hertz as owner was determined in favor of Hertz in the prior suit. Judge Del Tufo, presiding in that matter, determined that Jackson came into possession wrongfully, and that there was no evidence as to agency or negligence by Hertz. This ruling is consonant
with our current law. Doran v. Thomsen , 74 N.J.L. 445 (Sup. Ct. 1907); Maurer v. Brown , 106 N.J.L. 284 (Sup. Ct. 1930); see also McChord, "Liability of the Bailor for the Negligence of the Bailee of Motor Vehicles," 15 Geo. L.J. 402 (1927).
Plaintiff now seeks recovery against Hertz as self-insurer. Under our Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, every owner of rented and leased motor vehicles must either file with the clerk of the municipality a copy of a motor vehicle insurance policy, N.J.S.A. 45:21-2, or, where the assets of the owner are sufficient, as in the present case, become a self-insurer pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:21-8. The statute also provides the terms and provisions of such insurance, N.J.S.A. 45:21-3; these terms and provisions are mandatory and may not be avoided. Cf. Saffore v. Atlantic Casualty Ins. Co. , 21 N.J. 300 (1956).
The question for this court to determine is whether Jackson was insured by Hertz at the time of the accident under N.J.S.A. 45:21-3; i.e , whether Jackson was a "bailee" within the meaning and intent of the ...