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Bruce v. James P. MacLean Firm

Decided: January 30, 1989.

JAMES C. BRUCE, SR., INDIVIDUALLY, AND HELEN BRUCE, G/A/L, FOR THE MINOR CHILD, SHERRY L. BRUCE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES P. MACLEAN FIRM AND AETNA CASUALTY & SURETY COMPANY, DEFENDANTS



Kleiner, J.s.c.

Kleiner

OPINION

The present case is before this Court on cross motions for summary judgment and raises issues concerning the duty of both the insurance carrier and the insurance agent to inform the insured of the availability of Uninsured/Underinsured ("UM/UIM") limits higher than the $15,000/30,000 statutory minimum.

Plaintiffs filed suit against their insurance carrier, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., seeking reformation of their automobile insurance policy to provide UM/UIM coverage limits equal to their liability coverage. The plaintiffs also asserted negligence claims, seeking damages against their insurance agent, the James P. MacLean Firm.

On June 15, 1985, plaintiffs' daughter, Sherry Bruce, a minor, was seriously injured as a passenger in a one-car accident. The vehicle involved was owned and operated by Michael Hutchinson, who evidently lost control of his vehicle.

Hutchinson maintained insurance coverage with liability limits of $15,000/30,000. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff's insurance policy provided liability coverage of $50,000/100,000 limits and UM/UIM coverage with $15,000/30,000 limits. Thus, plaintiffs were unable to assert a UIM claim as

no differential existed between the liability limits of Hutchinson and the UM limits of the plaintiffs N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.1(b); Longworth v. Van Houten, 223 N.J. Super. 174, 538 A.2d 414 (App.Div.1988); Tyler v. N.J.F.U.A., 228 N.J. Super. 463, 550 A.2d 168 (App.Div.1988).

Plaintiffs first obtained automobile insurance from Aetna in April, 1975, through the James P. MacLean Firm. At that time, despite being fully apprised by the MacLean Firm of all the various available coverages, financial constraints limited the plaintiffs insurance selection to the minimum $15,000/30,000 liability and UM motorist coverage.

From April, 1975, until the present, plaintiffs have continuously had automobile insurance coverage through the defendant agency and the defendant insurance company.

In April, 1983, the liability limits of the plaintiffs' policy were increased to $50,000/100,000. The plaintiffs contend that they would have increased their UM*fn1 coverage from $15,000/30,000 to $50,000/100,000 limits prior to the accident had they been informed that such coverage existed. Plaintiffs charge both defendants with the failure to adequately provide plaintiffs with such information.

I.

In 1983 the Legislature enacted L.1983, C. 65 and L.1983, C. 362 which amended N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.1 to require that every automobile liability insurer offer its insured the option of purchasing UM and UIM motorist coverage to the limits of his/her liability coverage not to exceed $250,000/500,000. Prior to these amendments insurance companies were only ...


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