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Bacon v. Miller

Decided: February 5, 1971.


Sullivan, Collester and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Labrecque, J.A.D. Sullivan, P.J.A.D. (concurring).


Although defendant Allen Lee Miller is the named appellant, in actuality the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Board (the Board) appeals from an order denying defendant's motion to vacate an order directing payment of judgments in favor of plaintiffs and against Miller out of the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund (the Fund).

The facts are not in substantial dispute. On August 29, 1966 a vehicle owned and operated by Miller (who was uninsured)

failed to stop before entering a through street and collided with one driven by plaintiff Hedvig Bacon in which plaintiff Isaac Bacon was a passenger. The contact between the two cars took place approximately in the center of the intersection and the cars thereafter went over the curb onto the sidewalk, the Miller vehicle striking three pedestrians who were standing at the corner.

Both plaintiffs, as well as the three pedestrians, suffered injuries for which they subsequently brought suit. There was a trial as to liability in the County Court, resulting in a verdict holding Miller solely responsible. Sometime thereafter a settlement was negotiated for the injuries sustained by the three pedestrians, all minors, for a total of $19,000. Following the settlement judgment was entered and two orders, the last one dated November 14, 1967, directed payment of the $19,000 total out of the Fund.

Fourteen months thereafter plaintiffs' case was tried as to damages, resulting in judgments which totalled $3,755. They thereupon moved, on notice to the Board, for an order directing payment from the Fund. On the return day of the notice no one appeared representing defendant or the Board. Although N.J.S.A. 39:6-69 and 73 restricted payments from the Fund to $20,000 for each accident, we are not clear as to whether the court was advised that $19,000 had already been paid out of the Fund in settlement of the claims of the three pedestrians. The court thereupon entered an order directing payment out of the Fund of the full amount of plaintiffs' judgments.

However, payment was not made and some three months later a motion was made to set aside the order for payment on the ground that the Fund's liability did not extend beyond $1,000, the balance allegedly available after payment of the amounts of the prior settlements. The trial judge denied the motion, holding that there had been two accidents within the contemplation of the statute.

Both sides concede that the sole question presented is whether defendant was involved in one or two accidents. Defendant

contends that there was but one accident, while plaintiffs argue that the striking of the pedestrians was a second separate accident. On the basis of the facts herein-above referred to, we conclude that there was but one accident within the intendment of the statute, and that the liability of the Fund to all persons injured could not exceed the sum of $20,000. N.J.S.A. 39:6-69 and 73.

There can be no question but that the statute creating the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Board is remedial legislation, to be liberally construed to advance the remedy, due regard being had to the protection of the Fund against fraud and abuse, and to the fulfillment of the essential legislative policy. Giles v. Gassert , 23 N.J. 22, 34 (1956); Robson v. Rodriquez , 26 N.J. 517 (1958). However, while liberality of construction of remedial legislation is desirable, we are not free to ignore the plain meaning of the language employed by the Legislature. Wormack v. Howard , 33 N.J. 139, 142 (1960). In line with our duty to interpret the statute we are required to give effect to such language in order to properly effectuate the legislative design. Dixon v. Gassert , 26 N.J. 1, 9 (1958). Of a certainty, the language used does not reflect an intention to make every claimant completely whole, but is intended to provide some measure of relief to those persons who come within the class intended to be protected. Corrigan v. Gassert , 27 N.J. 227, 233 (1958).

The issue here presented does not appear to have been passed upon by the courts of this or any of our sister states. For the most part, the parties rely upon cases involving clauses fixing the maximum liability of ...

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