The novel question posed in this declaratory judgment suit is whether the interpretation of legislative intent of the PIP statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(d) and 39:6A-4(b), as set forth in Gambino v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 86 N.J. 100 (1981), is applicable to the factual issues raised at trial.
In particular, the Court must determine whether the decedent, Herman Sikking, was an "income producer," as defined by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(d), at the time of his death on June 13, 1982.
Herman Sikking was employed with Owens-Illinois Kimble Division as a glassworker from October 18, 1965 until April 26, 1982. Sikking had an excellent employment record during this period. Several months prior to his death, Sikking expressed dissatisfaction with his employment due to the shift work which he had been given and accompanying new job responsibilities. Sikking, on several occasions, approached his supervisors and
informed them that he was thinking of leaving his employment due to his continuing dissatisfaction. After taking some time off to assess his present employment status, Sikking decided on April 26, 1982 to leave Kimble. At the time, Sikking was 49 years of age, was married and resided with his wife and two children.
On June 13, 1982, approximately six weeks later, Sikking died from injuries sustained in a one-vehicle automobile accident. At the time of his death, Sikking was the named insured on a policy of automobile insurance issued by defendant, Selected Risks Insurance Company, (Selected Risks). Following Sikking's death, Selected Risks paid, pursuant to the no fault (PIP) provisions of the policy, funeral expense, death and essential service benefits. Selected Risks refused, however, to pay "survivor benefits" under the policy, contending that the decedent was not an "income producer" at the time of the accident.*fn1 Linda Sikking, as Executrix of the estate of Herman Sikking, subsequently filed this declaratory judgment suit, asserting entitlement to these PIP benefits.
In order to recover income continuation benefits under the New Jersey No-Fault Insurance Act, it is necessary that the decedent have been an "income producer" at the time of his death. Greenberg v. Great American Insurance Co., 146 N.J. Super. 69 (Law Div.1976), rev'd on other grounds, 158 N.J. Super. 223 (App.Div.1978).
The term "income producer," as contained in both the insurance policy of the decedent and the statutory framework of the no-fault insurance law, is defined as a person who, at the time of the accident causing personal injury or death, was in an occupational status, earning or producing income. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(d). In order to fit within this definitional framework, it
is not necessary that one have been actually on the payroll or earning income on the date of the accident. Hunter v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 155 N.J. Super. 16 (Law Div.1977). Under the law as currently pronounced by the New Jersey Supreme Court, certain other categories of ...