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New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. v. Griffin

Decided: November 4, 1991.

NEW JERSEY MANUFACTURERS INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOLDEN GRIFFIN; DIRECTOR OF MOTOR VEHICLES UNSATISFIED CLAIM AND JUDGMENT FUND BOARD, AND THE COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE, DEFENDANTS



PASSAIC COUNTY. Civil Action

Dwyer, J.s.c.

Dwyer

DWYER, J.S.C.

This case involves the novel question between New Jersey Manufacturers Ins. Co. ("NJM") and The Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund ("UCJF") as to which should pay personal injury protection ("PIP") benefits to a claimant who suffered personal injuries when struck by a stolen automobile. Neither counsel nor the court have found any decision in New Jersey that answers the question. In the underlying action, PAS-L-2191-90, the owner of the stolen vehicle, defendant, Carmelo Morelo ("Morelo"), was granted summary judgment and the case was dismissed with prejudice as against him. The present parties to this action have submitted cross motions for summary judgment on their respective claims and counterclaims for

declaratory judgment declaring it is not required to pay the claimant's PIP benefits and that the other is required to so pay.

The basic facts in this and the underlying action are not in dispute. On October 29, 1988 Morelo parked his 1987 Mitsubishi Mirage at his work place parking lot at 448 -- 10th Avenue, Paterson, New Jersey. At 12:00 Noon he went to go out for lunch, discovered his car missing, and reported this event to the Paterson Police Department. NJM was the insurer of this vehicle.

On October 30, 1988, this vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Paterson, New Jersey. The claimant, Golden Griffin ("Griffin"), was struck when the car backed up onto the sidewalk on which he was a pedestrian. Later that day the vehicle was recovered at 527 West 160th Street, New York, New York, while being operated by Brian Hannon ("Hannon") of Paterson, New Jersey. Morelo did not know Hannon prior to the latter's arrest.

NJM and UCJF agree that the provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 are applicable in the present case. It is this section of the "New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act," N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 et seq. ("Reform Act"), which sets forth the categories of Griffin's entitlement to PIP coverage. NJM's policy issued to Morelo, dated May 30, 1988, provided for PIP coverage as required by said Reform Act.

In Darel v. Pennsylvania Manufacturers Ass'n Ins. Co., 114 N.J. 416, 419, 555 A.2d 570 (1989) (quoting Hopkins v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 156 N.J. Super. 72, 75, 383 A.2d 458 (App.Div.1978)) N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 was interpreted to afford protection to three classes of persons:

(1) named insureds and members of their family are covered for bodily injury arising from an accident involving an automobile; (2) "other persons" are given protection for bodily injuries sustained "while occupying the automobile of the named insured or while using [it] with [the named insured's] permission"; and (3) "pedestrians" are covered for injuries caused by the automobile or when struck by an object propelled by it.

Darel recognized the difference between pedestrians that were named insureds and family members, as opposed to "stranger" pedestrians. Id. 114 N.J. at 422-23, 555 A.2d 570. The status of the former was affected by the 1983 amendments to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4, while that of the latter did not change. Furthermore, the 1983 amendments still provided protection to these three classes of persons. The only aspect that was affected by this amendment was the change in the eligibility requirement for named insureds and their families to injuries resulting from an accident "while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile." Thus, the legislature has had ample opportunity to revise the statute in a manner which would remove the protection afforded to pedestrians, yet has not done so.

It must also be noted that for "other persons," the second class of claimants who are injured "while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using the automobile . . . the permission of the named insured" is needed. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. However, the legislature did not choose to include this qualifying language as the statute affects the third class, pedestrians. Injuries to pedestrians need only be "caused by the named insured's automobile . . ." in order for the claimant to ...


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