This case comes before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment by plaintiff and defendant. There is no dispute of the facts which are, that on October 20, 1983, decedent, Walter B. Schomber, was operating his pickup truck when he suffered a heart attack. The vehicle subsequently struck a utility pole. The medical examiner listed the sole cause of death as acute and chronic coronary atherosclerotic disease with congestive heart failure (heart attack). No other vehicles were involved in this incident. The autopsy listed no injuries resulting from the vehicle striking the utility pole.
The vehicle driven by decedent was insured by Prudential Property & Casualty Insurance Company (defendant). Ruth A. Schomber, widow of decedent, filed a claim with defendant under the personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of the policy alleging that she is entitled to survivor income continuation benefits, survivor essential service benefits, funeral expenses and death benefits. This claim is the basis for the present action.
The issue to be decided is whether N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 allows plaintiff to recover the aforementioned benefits as a result of the instant accident. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 states in part:
Every automobile liability insurance policy insuring an automobile as defined in this act against loss resulting from liability imposed by law for bodily injury, death and property damage sustained by any person arising out of ownership, operation, maintenance or use of an automobile shall provide personal injury protection coverage, as defined hereinbelow, under provisions approved by the Commissioner of Insurance, for the payment of benefits without regard to negligence, liability or fault of any kind, to the named insured and members of his family residing in his household who sustained bodily injury as result of an accident while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile, or as a pedestrian, being struck by an automobile or by an object propelled by or from an automobile, to other persons sustaining bodily injury while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using the automobile of the named insured, with the permission of the named insured, and to pedestrians, sustaining bodily injury caused by the named insured's automobile or struck by an object propelled by or from such automobile. [Emphasis supplied]
Plaintiff contends this statute allows PIP benefits when (a) there is bodily injury; (b) said injury is the result of an accident;
and (c) the accident occurs "while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile." Plaintiff. states the heart attack was the accident, occurring "while occupying the automobile" and, therefore, the statutory criteria have been met. Defendant construes the statute as allowing PIP coverage only when the claimant's death is caused by an accident involving a motor vehicle.
Defendant relies principally upon the recent judicial interpretation of the statute in JFK Memorial Hospital v. Kendal, 205 N.J. Super. 456 (Law Div.1985). The factual situation in Kendal was very similar to the instant case in that the insured decedent in Kendal, died as a result of a "cerebrovascular accident (stroke) which occurred when he was driving an automobile." Id. at 457. The court traced the history of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4:
The language in question has gone through three changes. [ sic ] 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". [Id. at 458]
The court then analyzed the legislative intent of the statute throughout its revisionary period. It quoted the introductory statement to Assembly Bill 3981 which stated the no-fault provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 (as amended in 1983) were mainly designed to "tighten statutory eligibility requirements for PIP coverage so as to comport with the original intent of the no-fault law." Ibid. The court stated the statute's historical intent was to provide no-fault PIP protection for automobile connected injuries and deaths. Id. at 460. It stated further the Legislature could not have intended to provide coverage for injuries resulting from the human body's failure to function properly internally. Ibid. If such coverage were permitted, "every person injured while leaning against, sitting in, or
perhaps looking at an automobile, would have PIP ...