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Purdy v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Decided: April 2, 1982.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County.

Fritz, Ard and Trautwein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D.


[184 NJSuper Page 125] The principal issue here involved is a narrow one to be decided on facts essentially undisputed. The question involved is easily stated: Does a no-contact accident causing injuries to the 19-year-old driver of a "dirt bike" being operated elsewhere than upon a public road, caused by the distracting effects of an automobile being operated upon a public road, come within the umbrella of automobile insurance personal injury protection, commonly called PIP, as "an accident involving an automobile" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4? In the extraordinary facts of this particular case, we incline to the view that it does.

In this infancy of the law respecting the breadth of PIP coverage, the factual setting in each case is important. The personal injury plaintiff, Sandra L. Purdy, lived, apparently, in a rural area. She had been visiting her friend who lived next door in a home "[e]xactly four telephone poles away." They had been riding their motorcycles -- plaintiff described hers as a "basic dirt bike" -- through the fields in the vicinity. When it came time for her to return home, plaintiff rode on the grass at the side of the road. The path she chose was directly in line with the telephone poles three to four feet from the edge of the road. She testified that as she approached each pole she would go around it. In doing this, she chose to move toward the road side of the pole rather than toward the side of the pole away from the road. As she went around the second of the four poles she "noticed a car coming." What then happened appears from her testimony thusly:

Her last recollection is her remembrance of putting her brakes on. She testified, "I was still on the grass and I remember seeing the one headlight right in front of me, and that's all I remember." There is no competent evidence whatsoever in the record that the car whose lights distracted plaintiff left the public highway or struck either plaintiff or her motorcycle. Answers to interrogatories indicate that the motorcycle collided with the telephone pole and that the automobile did not have contact with the motorcycle.

Our search really is for the intent of the Legislature when it mandated coverage for "an accident involving an automobile." Did it mean coverage for injuries to one not in an automobile and not upon a public road who was not struck by any automobile or by any object propelled by or from such automobile, in a situation where the automobile blamed was in no place it was not permitted to be and not physically involved

in any way with the accident? We think so, at least as far as members of the family of the named insured are concerned -- a class of which plaintiff is a member -- because there is no qualifying language in the statute with respect to the occurrence other than that there be an accident and that an automobile be involved. Here both those prerequisites were satisfied beyond any argument.

We have heretofore held the statute to be applicable in the case of an accidental occurrence where the victim was not in the automobile involved (nor had he been in that automobile or any other immediately prior to the accident), nor was the victim or the automobile on a public road, or any road for that matter. Government Emp. Ins. Co. v. Tolhurst , 146 N.J. Super. 285 (App.Div.1977). A somewhat similar situation produced coverage in Newcomb Hospital v. Fountain , 141 N.J. Super. 291 (Law Div.1976). While a motorcycle does not come within the definition of an automobile for purposes of the statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2a; Bingham v. Home Indemnity Co. , 146 N.J. Super. 166 (Law Div.1976), we have also held coverage may not be denied simply because the injured party is riding a motorcycle so long as that person is a named insured or member of his family residing in the household of the named insured and is injured as the result of an accident involving an automobile, all as here. Hoglin v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. , 144 N.J. Super. 475 (App.Div.1976). Accord, Amiano v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. , 85 N.J. 85 (1981). As Judge Thomas so aptly said in Harlan v. Fidelity & Cas. Co. , 139 N.J. Super. 226 (Law Div. 1976):

Nor is it essential to coverage that the involvement of the automobile with the injured person include contact with the victim in the physical sense, as long as there is a causal nexus to some degree. In Vicari v. Nationwide Ins. Co. , 174 N.J. Super. 463 (App.Div.1980), certif. den. 85 N.J. 464 (1980), we determined

there was statutory coverage for the occupant of a vehicle not involved in an accident but stopped in a line of traffic on account of it, who was injured when he left the car in which he was riding to render assistance. A like result obtained in Gerber v. Allstate Ins. Co. , 161 N.J. Super. 543 (Law Div. 1978), in which the actual accident was between two vehicles not qualifying under the statute, a motorcycle and a commercial vehicle. See Berg v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. , 166 N.J. Super. 239 (Law Div. 1979).

It is clear beyond any doubt that the public policy of this State requires construction of insurance policies in a manner to provide the broadest range of protection to those for whose benefits the insurance is written. State Farm v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co. , 62 N.J. 155, 168 (1973). It follows that statutory provisions regulating that insurance are susceptible to the same consideration. Vicari v. Nationwide Ins. Co., supra , 174 N.J. Super. at 468. However, we are confident that here we need not rely on that canon to produce the result we reach, for we are content that the plain meaning of the statute is ...

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