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Rankin v. Ovalles

Decided: January 12, 1993.


Margulies, J.s.c.


[262 NJSuper Page 464] The Ovalles' vehicle was proceeding north. In an attempt to make a left-hand turn across the southbound lane, it came in contact with the McGee vehicle which was proceeding south.

The Ovalles' vehicle struck the right rear of the McGee vehicle, spun the McGee vehicle around and then continued across the southbound traffic, mounted a sidewalk and struck the minor plaintiffs-pedestrians who appear in this action by their guardian. Plaintiffs are not owners of an automobile nor is there an owner of an automobile who resides in their household. The Ovalles' vehicle is alleged to be uninsured. Prudential Insurance Co. is servicing agent for New Jersey Automobile Full Insurance Underwriting Association, (N.J.A.F.I.U.A.) which covered Ovalles. Prudential alleges it cancelled the policy prior to the accident. Plaintiffs seek remedy against McGee for Personal Injury Protection (P.I.P.) benefits under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. Allstate Insurance Company is servicing agent for N.J.A.F.I.U.A., insurers of McGee. Alternatively, plaintiffs seek relief against Ovalles from the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund (Fund) under N.J.S.A. 39:6-86.1. Both defendants declined payment. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4, among other things, refers to a class of persons:

On July 10, 1992, partial summary judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs against the Fund for P.I.P. benefits. The court then decided that a motor vehicle struck by another vehicle and "propelled to the sidewalk is not an 'object'" under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. On August 5th, a written letter opinion recited the facts (as set forth above) and added:

In short, under the italicized language, plaintiff asserts that the Ovalles' vehicle was "an object" propelled by the named insured's automobile (McGee).

The problem of whether an automobile is an object under these circumstances is novel. The article, "Who pays pedestrians hit by stolen cars", 129 N.J.L.J. 1235 (December 30, 1991) reviews in a different context the very liberal application of the law and the broad interpretation given to the statute.

Notwithstanding the liberal constitutional and broad interpretation of the statute, P.I.P. benefits are not recoverable based upon the facts at bar. The

statute refers to and defines an automobile. It is never used as analogous to an object propelled by or from an automobile. The plain language and common sense of the statute does not suggest that in an impact between an insured and uninsured vehicle, the uninsured vehicle should be treated as an object propelled by the insured vehicle in any of the variety of situations in which the propelled vehicle may cause damage or injuries to others. The Court finds nothing in the history of the statute to give it the breadth of interpretation which the plaintiff seeks. The 1984 legislation which inserted "or by an object propelled by or from an automobile" does not suggest such breadth of coverage as plaintiff seeks to produce.

On August 14th, the defendant Fund sought further consideration of three issues: Whether the plaintiff's-pedestrian's injuries were caused by the insured McGee vehicle; whether plaintiff must exhaust all remedies before resorting to the Fund; and, whether the Ovalles were insured in view of the holding in Celino v. General Accident Ins., 211 N.J. Super. 538, 512 A.2d 496 (App.Div.1986).

On the same day, the court further supplemented its opinion by adding:

The Fund gains no benefit from the consideration of the concept of causation. Notwithstanding the broad concept of "cause" as defined in Webster's Third International Dictionary, 356 (15th ed. 1971) cited in Darel v. Pennsylvania Mfgrs. Ass'n. Ins. Co., 114 N.J. 416, 555 A.2d 570 (1989), the fact complex at bar differs from that in Darel. The McGee vehicle was merely a circumstance. It was not a substantial factor in causing the injury. The "but for" doctrine is an elusive guide to problems of causation. It is as often used to determine inclusion as to determine exclusion. Both Prosser and Harper & James recognize the frequent broad use of this concept. There is no single set of parameters that mechanically limit the concept of cause. Hart and Honore took 500 pages to explain the sense of that doctrine in the Second Edition of " Causation In The Law ".

On its face, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 did provide coverage to pedestrians sustaining injury caused by the named insured's automobile. "Caused by" does not mean "struck by." It does not mean wrongfully, negligently or tortiously "caused by", but it must mean something other than the coincidence of time and place. Hypothetically, if the McGee vehicle had not been at the site when Ovalles was making his turn, if the Ovalles operator had lost control and mounted the sidewalk, the pedestrian would still have been struck. Similarly, if the Ovalles vehicle cutting across the path of the McGee vehicle had not even contacted the McGee vehicle but had swerved and struck the pedestrian, the injury would have been sustained although there was no collision. If the Ovalles had accelerated in making the turn because ...

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