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Rutgers Casualty Insurance Co. v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co.

Decided: June 26, 1989.

RUTGERS CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, LINDA ROBINSON, LINDA HENNESSEY AND THOMAS COPPOLA, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Camden County.

Gaulkin, R. S. Cohen and A. M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by R. S. Cohen, J.A.D.

Cohen

This is a fight between two auto insurers over whose uninsured motorist (UM) coverage should pay the medical expenses of an injured passenger, Linda Hennessey.

Hennessey lives in Pennsylvania. She owns an auto registered and principally garaged there and insured by defendant State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, with UM limits of $50,000/100,000.*fn1 The accident was in Pennsylvania, while Hennessey occupied a New Jersey auto owned by a New Jersey resident, Linda Robinson, and insured by Rutgers Casualty Insurance Company, with UM limits of $15,000/30,000.

The accident occurred after Robinson, Hennessey and another woman, all nurses, came upon an earlier road accident and stopped to render aid. Robinson and, later, the third woman left the car to see if they could help. A man who was involved in the accident came and sat down in the Robinson car. He then unexpectedly drove the car away, with Hennessey an unwilling passenger, and struck a telephone pole, injuring Hennessey. The man was uninsured.

Hennessey unsuccessfully sought UM benefits from both carriers. State Farm took the position that under Pennsylvania law it was obliged to pay only after exhaustion of the primarily liable policy covering the host vehicle. Rutgers argued that, pursuant to New Jersey law, it and State Farm were both primarily liable on a pro rata basis.

In this action brought by Rutgers to break the logjam, both insurers moved for summary judgment. The Law Division

ruled that Pennsylvania law applied to the interpretation of both policies because Pennsylvania had the greater interest in the matter, and its law best met the parties' expectations. It made Rutgers the primary carrier and permitted stacking of the State Farm coverage after the Rutgers benefits were exhausted, a result that comported with Pennsylvania law but not New Jersey's. Rutgers appealed, and we now affirm, but for different reasons.

This is an unusual example of a common problem. Auto insurance policies are written to satisfy particular states' requirements for autos registered and garaged there. Autos also travel through other states, where different requirements exist for policies covering local vehicles or even for policies covering visiting out-of-state autos. Policies commonly provide the coverage demanded by the financial responsibility laws of any state in which the auto is operated. But they ordinarily do not promise to meet every requirement made of local auto policies if not expressly made applicable to out-of-state cars, or to adopt the whole body of insurance law of each state visited for the period of the stay. As our Supreme Court said in 1980 about New Jersey law:

Current state statutes do not reveal a legislative scheme to protect New Jersey residents by specifically imposing upon out of state, insured, and financially-responsible drivers, who are not otherwise directly subject to our mandatory insurance laws, the same or identical level of insurance liability protection required of New Jersey motorists. [ State Farm Ins. Co. v. Simmons' Estate, 84 N.J. 28, 42-43 (1980)].

But see N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, subsequently enacted for the purpose of imposing New Jersey standards on out-of-state policies written by carriers licensed by New Jersey during the covered auto's visit here.

The Law Division treated the case as though it presented a conflict of law problem like State Farm Ins. Co. v. Simmons' Estate, supra. There the issue was whether omnibus clause policy language should be interpreted according to the more liberal decisional law of New Jersey, where the ...


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