On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.
This appeal concerns an injured person's eligibility to receive benefits from the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund (Fund). The Fund serves as a safety net for motor-vehicle-accident victims who sustain losses or injuries caused by uninsured or unidentifiable owners or operators of motor vehicles. For an innocent passenger in a car struck by an uninsured driver the Fund will cover up to $15,000 of uninsured losses occasioned by personal injury and up to $5,000 of uninsured losses resulting from property damage. N.J.S.A. 39:6-73(c)(1) and (3). The Fund also affords personal-injury-protection (PIP) benefits to cover medical claims up to $250,000 and loss of income up to $5,200. N.J.S.A. 39:6-86.1a and -86.1b. In addition to other requirements, to be eligible to collect benefits from the Fund, the injured person must show that "[h]e was not at the time of the accident, the owner or registrant of an uninsured motor vehicle * * *." N.J.S.A. 39:6-70(d). Posed most broadly, the question in this case is whether mere ownership of an uninsured car that is inoperable and unregistered precludes recovery from the Fund.
Timothy Foxworth was injured on May 4, 1987. He was a passenger in a vehicle owned and operated by Shelly Morris that
was struck by a vehicle owned and operated by Booker T. King. Both vehicles were uninsured.
On October 17, 1988, Foxworth filed a complaint in the Superior Court, Law Division, against King, Morris, and the Fund. He sought damages for bodily injury and PIP benefits. King and Morris defaulted. After a proof hearing, the court entered judgment against King in the amount of $14,959, which included $4559 for medical bills, $2400 for loss of wages, and $8000 for pain and suffering. On July 10, 1990, Foxworth applied for payment from the Fund. The Fund opposed payment contending that Foxworth was ineligible because he had been the owner of an uninsured car at the time of the accident.
Foxworth did own an uninsured vehicle. In February 1987, he had bought an inoperable 1976 Saab from a used-car lot and had it towed to a place of storage. Not intending to operate the Saab until it was driveable, Foxworth had not insured it. Foxworth claimed he never drove or operated the vehicle because the vehicle had major electrical problems. The record is unclear whether Foxworth had ever registered the vehicle or obtained license plates. In November 1988, Foxworth removed the car from storage and sold it for junk.
In ruling on the motion for payment from the Fund, the court stated that "there was a motor vehicle registered in the name of [Foxworth]," that Foxworth "had [the car] towed from the place he bought it to [a place] for storage," and that Foxworth had "[n]o insurance at the time of the accident." The court noted that Foxworth intended to have the car repaired but never had the money to do so. Relying on language in Caldwell v. Kline, 232 N.J. Super. 406, 412, 557 A.2d 661 (App.Div.1989), that an owner who "has taken the vehicle off the road * * * with no intent of operating it" may be eligible for Fund benefits, the court granted Foxworth's motion.
The Appellate Division reversed. The court acknowledged that the car had never been driven, had been kept in storage, and had not been repaired because Foxworth could not afford to make the
repairs. The court found that the legislative history of ...