Walter Austin died. The treating physician was of the opinion that death resulted from a cerebrovascular accident which occurred when he was driving an automobile. His estate claims PIP benefits from the Allstate Insurance Company which insured the automobile. Allstate defends on the ground that the decedent's accident is not covered by the applicable section of the PIP statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4, which provides PIP coverage when injuries occur as "a result of an accident while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile." It moves for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The estate opposes the motion, arguing that the broad statutory language requires coverage.
Read literally, the statutory language supports the estate. The decedent did die as "a result of an accident while occupying . . . or using an automobile." A literal reading, however, may
not disclose legislative intent. N.J. Builders, Owners & Managers Ass'n v. Blair, 60 N.J. 330 (1972). Indeed, it may be quite contrary to that intent. Such is the case here.
The language in question has gone through three changes. When the No-Fault Law was first adopted, L. 1972, c. 70, it provided coverage to a person "who sustained bodily injury as a result of an automobile accident." Later that year, the language was changed to permit recovery by a person "who sustained bodily injury as a result of an accident involving an automobile." L. 1972, c. 203. The present statute, reflecting changes made by L. 1983, c. 362, provides for the payment of benefits to a person "who sustained bodily injury as a result of an accident while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile."
The problem, of course, is one of identifying legislative intent. Initially, it must be acknowledged that the statute is to be read liberally in order to provide coverage. In Amiano v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 85 N.J. 85 (1981) the Supreme Court said:
Moreover, the Act itself requires us to construe its provisions liberally in order to effect the legislative purpose to the fullest extent possible. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-16. The No Fault Act is social legislation intended to provide insureds with the prompt payment of medical bills, lost wages and other such expenses without making them await the outcome of protracted litigation Mandated as a social necessity, PIP coverage should be given the broadest application consistent with the statutory language. [at 90]
This ruling came before the 1983 amendment. The only history providing any insight into the Legislature's intention in 1983 is the following comment taken from the introductory statement to Assembly Bill 3981 (later L. 1983, c. 362):
5. No-Fault and Related Clean-Up Provisions
These provisions mainly are designed to tighten statutory eligibility requirements for personal injury protection coverage so as to comport with the original intent of the no-fault law.
In Uzcatequi-Gaymon v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co., 193 N.J. Super. 71 (App.Div.1984), a case in which the PIP claim resulted from a shooting during a robbery involving an automobile, Judge ...