This matter comes before the court by way of plaintiff's, Mary Annunziata, motion to set an immediate date for trial by jury without further discovery. This is a matter of first impression for this Court.
The facts may be summarized as follows:
On or about March 28, 1989, the plaintiff, Mary Annunziata, (herein "Annunziata") was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Plaintiff was covered by her own insurance policy issued by the Prudential Insurance Company (hereinafter "Prudential") and her employer's insurance policy issued by Fireman's Fund Insurance Company (hereinafter "Fireman's Fund"). On or about January 24, 1992, the plaintiff filed a complaint which rejected the UIM Arbitration award entered against the defendants Prudential and Fireman's Fund.
Plaintiff maintains that all discovery is complete and that an early trial date should be set. Prudential has raised no challenge to these issues, however it opposes the plaintiff's claim to a trial by jury.
The sole issue before this court is whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial after rejecting the U.I.M. arbitration award.
The plaintiff's claimed right to a jury trial is based on the constitutional guarantee under Article I of the New Jersey Constitution. Article I guarantees a litigant the right to a jury trial to the extent such a right existed at common law. Manetti v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 196 N.J. Super. 317, 320, 482 A.2d 520 (App.Div.1984), citing Van Dissel v. Jersey
Central Power & Light Co., 181 N.J. Super. 516, 525, 438 A.2d 563 (App.Div.1981), certif. den. 89 N.J. 409, 446 A.2d 142 (1982), vacated on other grounds and remanded 465 U.S. 1001, 104 S. Ct. 989, 79 L. Ed. 2d 224 (1984). "At common law a contract action would entitle the litigants to a jury trial." Chiacchio v. Chiacchio, 198 N.J. Super. 1, 6, 486 A.2d 335 (App.Div.1984), citing Manetti, 196 N.J. Super. at 320, 482 A.2d 520.
The threshold issue this court must resolve is whether the plaintiff's cause of action is statutorily mandated, in which case there may be no right to a jury trial or whether the action is contractual with the correlative right to a jury trial. The Appellate division in Manetti, at 320, 482 A.2d 520 held:
We conclude there is no right to a jury trial for PIP benefits where the issue is what benefits, if any, are due. We reach this result because the mandatory obligations providing for PIP benefits when plaintiff's policy was purchased far outweighed the contractual character of the insurance policy issued by defendant to plaintiff. Thus in determining if plaintiff is constitutionally entitled to a trial by ...