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Burns v. Market Transition Facility of New Jersey

May 11, 1995


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

Approved for Publication May 11, 1995.

Before Judges Landau, Conley and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Newman, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned). Conley, J.A.D., Concurring.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman

NEWMAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned)

The issue of first impression raised by this case is whether a good samaritan who sustains injury while rendering aid to a driver trapped in an automobile following a collision is entitled to personal injury protection benefits (PIP) under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. The motion Judge granted partial summary judgment against plaintiff's PIP carrier, ruling that a person who sustains bodily injury in rendering such assistance to the driver is entitled to PIP coverage. We affirm. *fn1

The relevant facts are these. On June 30, 1991 at about 7:00 P.M., the plaintiff Robert Burns was driving southbound on the Garden State Parkway behind his brother, Terrence Burns. Each brother was driving his own automobile. A third vehicle, driven by Juan Lugo, was weaving in and out of traffic at high speed. Lugo's car clipped Terrence's automobile, sent it spinning out of control and across the median where it collided in the northbound lanes with a Ford pickup truck driven by James Wendell. Plaintiff saw the collision, stopped his vehicle on the shoulder of the road and went to his brother's aid.

Plaintiff pulled the passenger door open and saw his brother lying on his right side toward the passenger seat with his seat belt buckled. Terrence was breathing erratically but was unresponsive. Plaintiff, a chiropractor, was a former EMT technician. He stabilized his brother's head by holding it in such a way as to maintain an open airway. Plaintiff's right leg was in the passenger compartment of the car and his left foot extended outside the vehicle. He was in a bent position with his back toward the windshield of the car. He continued to hold his brother in this position while efforts were made to extricate Terrence's legs.

EMT rescue units arrived. During the following hour, EMT workers administered IVs and put Terrence in a neck brace. Plaintiff continued to hold his brother's head until he could be placed on a backboard. Proper EMT methodology called for the patient's head to continue to be stabilized by a single person even after the neck brace had been placed on Terrence. Plaintiff assisted the EMT personnel in putting the neck brace on his brother, in coordinating the IV lines and in placing Terrence on the backboard once his legs were free. He covered his brother with his own body when glass was being smashed in order to effect Terrence's rescue. Once extricated, Terrence was treated by the EMT unit for another ten minutes before being airlifted to a trauma center. Terrence was pronounced dead at 8:15 P.M.

As a result of the bent and awkward position maintained by plaintiff for an extended period of time, while partially in and partially out of the vehicle, plaintiff developed pain in his back and between his shoulder blades on the evening of the accident. He subsequently underwent a course of orthopedic treatment. He was also treated by a psychiatrist because of the emotional impact occasioned by his brother's death. Medical benefits for PIP coverage were claimed for both the orthopedic injury and for the psychological injury sustained while watching his brother die. *fn2

On appeal, defendants Market Transition Facility of New Jersey by and through its servicing carriers, CSC Insurance Services and Hertz Claim Management, contend that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment because plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4. They argue that any injury sustained by plaintiff did not arise out of his use of the automobile nor was he occupying or using the automobile when any injuries were suffered. Defendants contend that plaintiff was not involved in the automobile accident and the remote nature of his involvement was sufficient to exclude him from obtaining PIP coverage. We disagree.

New Jersey's no fault compulsory automobile insurance scheme, found in the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 to 35, must be "liberally construed so as to effect the purpose thereof." N.J.S.A. 39:6A-16. PIP coverage has been characterized as "a social necessity that should be given the broadest application consistent with the statutory language". Amiano v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 85 N.J. 85, 90, 424 A.2d 1179 (1981). A broad application is grounded in a public policy favoring coverage. See, Allstate Ins. Co. v. Malec, 104 N.J. 1, 6, 514 A.2d 832 (1986). Insureds are entitled to coverage in accordance with their objectively reasonable expectations that are supported by any fair interpretation of the law. Westchester Fire Ins. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co., 126 N.J. Super. 29, 36, 312 A.2d 664 (App. Div. 1973), aff'd. o.b. 65 N.J. 152 (1974). The Legislature has sought to insure the "broadest coverage possible so long as an automobile was involved in that which happened." Pennsylvania Nat'l Mut. Cas. Co. v. Miller Est., 185 N.J. Super. 183, 187, 447 A.2d 1344 (App. Div. 1982).

The Supreme Court recently revisited the issue of PIP eligibility for a pedestrian wounded in a random drive-by shooting in Lindstrom v. Hanover Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 242, 649 A.2d 1272 (1994). In giving the language of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 a broad meaning, the Court had this to say:

Although to trigger PIP coverage the automobile must provide more than merely the setting for the accident, no amendment has changed the requirement that the Act be liberally construed to give the broadest application consistent with its language. The guiding principle remains intact: to accommodate the public ...

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