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Quintana v. Brambila

New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division

Decided: December 15, 1983.


On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Cumberland County.

Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.


[192 NJSuper Page 362] Before us for review is a summary adjudication that defendant Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company (Nationwide) is not obliged to furnish plaintiff personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. Although the underlying negligence issues remain, the trial judge designated his order final in accordance with the

[192 NJSuper Page 363]

provisions of R. 4:42-2 in order to enable plaintiff to take this appeal.

Plaintiff was a passenger in defendant Brambila's automobile when it was involved in an accident in New Jersey while being driven by defendant Fuertes. Brambila was a resident of the State of Florida where the vehicle was registered and where Nationwide wrote the "Personal Auto Policy" in question. In accordance with Florida law*fn1 PIP coverage is not afforded under Nationwide's policy for accidents occurring outside the State of Florida except to the named insured and his relatives. Plaintiff is not a relative.

The judge rejected plaintiff's contention that under principles of choice-of-law Nationwide's policy must conform to mandatory New Jersey PIP coverage. That coverage must be provided not only to the named insured and members of his family residing in

[192 NJSuper Page 364]

his household, but also to "other persons sustaining bodily injury while occupying the automobile of the named insured . . . and to pedestrians." N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. Applying the criteria set out in State Farm Automobile Ins. Co. v. Simmons' Estate, 84 N.J. 28 (1980), the judge concluded "that New Jersey did not have a more significant and dominant relationship with the contracting parties than did Florida, and the enforcement of the particular provision of the subject policy in this case would not subserve the public policy or governmental interests of this state." We affirm. Our reasoning, however, differs from the trial judge's because he was mistaken in perceiving a need to choose between the law of New Jersey and the law of Florida.

In Simmons the Court enumerated the factors to be considered in deciding whether a "significant relationship" exists with a state other than the state where a contract is made in order to justify departing from the general rule of applying lex loci contractus. As to an automobile insurance policy, a choice of law must be made only if there is a conflict in the way each state interprets the policy. The conflict in Simmons was in the interpretation of the "express or implied consent" clause relating to coverage where the operator in his use of the vehicle exceeds the scope of consent initially given by the named insured.

Here there is no conflict in the interpretation of the policy. There is simply a difference in each state's statutory requirements for minimum PIP benefits that must be provided in policies for each state's automobiles. New Jersey's requirements apply to automobiles "registered or principally garaged" in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-3 and 4; Stewart v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 171 N.J. Super. 457 (App.Div.1979), certif. den. 82 N.J. 302 (1980). Florida's requirements apply to automobiles "registered . . . or physically present within [Florida] for more than 90 days during the preceding 365 days. . . ." Fla.Stat.Ann. ยง 627.733 (West Cum.Supp.1983). A difference in the breadth of PIP coverage required by New Jersey for its automobiles and Florida

[192 NJSuper Page 365]

for its automobiles, does not produce a conflict as to a particular automobile's mandatory coverage so there is no need to choose between New Jersey and Florida law. A Florida court recently reached the same result using the same reasoning in the case of a Florida accident involving an automobile insured in Massachusetts. Julian v. Johnson, 438 So. 2d 503 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1983).

Plaintiff now claims that a conflict exists because while Brambila's automobile was registered in Florida at the time of the accident, it was principally garaged in New Jersey and was therefore subject to the insurance requirements of both states. That issue was not before the trial judge. The evidence submitted on the motion is too sparse to determine summarily where the automobile was principally garaged. While there is evidence that Brambila had lent the automobile to Fuertes, a New Jersey domiciliary, some months before the accident, there is also evidence that it was about to be returned to Brambila in Florida. The policy in force at the time of the accident contains a declaration that the automobile is "principally garaged" at Brambila's Florida address.

We need not remand, however, because even if the automobile was principally garaged in New Jersey and therefore Brambila did not carry the broader PIP coverage required by New Jersey, it does not follow that we should write the additional coverage into Nationwide's Florida policy. What does follow is that the automobile was uninsured as to PIP benefits for plaintiff thereby entitling him to receive PIP benefits under the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Law. N.J.S.A. 39:6-86.1.*fn2 Cf. Flanagan v. Foster, 182 N.J. Super. 282, 287 (App.Div.1981),

[192 NJSuper Page 366]

certif. den. 89 N.J. 431 (1982) (PIP benefits under the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Law not recoverable where automobile was registered and principally garaged in Pennsylvania). Thus, regardless of where Brambila's automobile was principally garaged at the time of the accident, Nationwide is not liable to plaintiff for PIP benefits.


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