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Sjoberg v. Rutgers Casualty Insurance Co.

Decided: November 10, 1992.

CHARLES SJOBERG AND ALICIA SJOBERG, A MINOR, BY HER PARENT AND GUARDIAN AD LITEM CHARLES SJOBERG, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
RUTGERS CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



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

J.h. Coleman and Shebell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, J.A.D.

Shebell

The issue in this case is whether the fifteen-year-old infant plaintiff, Alicia Sjoberg, was at the time she sustained injuries in an automobile accident in Florida on October 31, 1988, a member of her father's "family residing in his household" thereby qualifying for personal injury protection (PIP) coverage under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. The Law Division, faced with cross-motions for summary judgment by plaintiffs and defendant Rutgers Casualty Insurance Co. (Rutgers), granted judgment to plaintiffs for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses together with counsel fees. Rutgers in this appeal does not argue that the issue was not ripe for summary judgment; rather, it urges that the Law Division "erred in granting personal injury protection benefits to an injured minor who was not residing in the household of the insured." Rutgers' position is that Alicia was not residing in her father's household as "[o]ne cannot simultaneously reside in a household in New Jersey and Florida" and "[s]imply stated, Alicia was residing in her mother's household, not her father's household."

The undisputed facts reflect that on January 21, 1988, Charles Sjoberg completed Rutgers' application for New Jersey automobile insurance. The application was accepted as effective that same day. At that time Sjoberg was residing in New Jersey with his second wife and two daughters of his first marriage, Alicia and Jennifer. On the application he listed only the name of his second wife as an individual residing with him. He did not name his two daughters, neither of whom was of driving age.*fn1 Alicia's parents were divorced on May 26, 1976,

at which time her mother was granted custody of both girls and the father was ordered to contribute to their support. On February 11, 1982, the father was "granted permanent custody of the children" and the mother was granted "reasonable and liberal rights of visitation."

The father, in support of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, certified:

5. Alicia resided with me from that date until some time in August, 1988. She was then fifteen years old and decided to go to Florida to see whether or not she wanted to live there with her mother. In August, 1988, she moved to Florida in time to enroll for school. It was her intention to try living with her mother to make up her mind where she wanted to live. On October 31, 1988, approximately two months after she arrived in Florida, she was involved in an automobile accident in which she sustained severe injuries . . . .

The only response to this certification came from the attorney for Rutgers and did not raise a factual controversy as to the above quoted facts. See R. 4:46-5(a).

N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 in mandating PIP coverage provides as follows:

Every automobile liability insurance policy, . . . insuring an automobile . . . 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 a result of an accident while occupying, entering into, alighting from or using an automobile, . . . .

[ N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 (emphasis added)].

The terms "residing" and "household" do not have "any absolute meaning." Miller v. United States Fidelity and Guar. Co., 127 N.J. Super. 37, 41, 316 A.2d 51 (App.Div.1974). These words were used by the Legislature to describe the extent of PIP coverage, and they must be given liberal interpretation so as to include all persons the ...


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