On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.
Furman, Cohen and Ashbey.
The question raised by this appeal is whether a cohabitant is a person insured under an automobile liability insurance policy for uninsured motorist benefits (UM). The trial court held that defendant Pizzi was entitled to such benefits under the terms of the policy issued by plaintiff insurance company, State Farm, to Steven Merkin, Pizzi's cohabitant. We hold to the contrary and reverse.*fn1
Procedurally, the matter comes about through Pizzi's demand for arbitration. State Farm filed an order to show cause in the Superior Court why defendant's claim should not be dismissed. The trial court dismissed the order to show cause and complaint of State Farm and remanded the matter back to the American Arbitration Association to proceed with Pizzi's claim.
The facts material to this appeal are not in dispute. Defendant, Julia Pizzi, resides with Steven Merkin, a named insured on the policy in question. Her driver's license, her checking account,
certain check cashing cards and other indicia of identification are in the name of "Julia Merkin". She alleges sustaining a compensable injury because a hit and run motorist forced her bicycle into a parked car, causing her to be injured. The trial judge found that
[a]lthough Steven and Julia Merkin are not legally married they reside together and hold themselves out as husband and wife in light of the foregoing. The UM endorsement provides coverage to "the named insured and any designated insured and, while residents of the same household, the spouse and relatives of either."
A fair reading of that provision will provide coverage to Julia A. Pizza, [sic] also known as Julia A. Merkin.
In order to recover, Pizzi must establish under the UM endorsement that she is a "spouse" or "relative" of Merkin, the named insured. We would also conclude for purposes of this appeal that under the terms of the policy, she could recover if found to be a "family member" which is defined to be "a person related to [Merkin] by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of [Merkin's] household. This includes a ward or foster child." (This is the policy's definition of persons covered under the original UM language as well as the original language providing medical payment coverage.)*fn2
In support of defendant's contention that a cohabitant is a "spouse" or "relative" or "family member" within the meaning of the policy, defendant cites Brokenbaugh v. New Jersey Mfrs. Ins. Co., 158 N.J. Super. 424 (App.Div.1978) and James by Robertson v. Allstate Ins. Co., 201 N.J. Super. 299 (App.Div.1985). In Brokenbaugh, the court determined that a child of a cohabitant who lived with named insured was entitled to UM benefits under the name insured's policy. The court relied upon the definition of "relative" in PIP coverage as including "a person related to the named insured by blood, marriage or adoption (including a ward or foster child) who is a resident of
the same household as the named insured." Id. 158 N.J. Super. at 428. Examining the facts in Brokenbaugh, the court concluded that the plaintiff child of a cohabitant was dependent upon the named insured, and had the status of "ward" or "foster child". ...