On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Approved for Publication December 16, 1996.
Before Judges Long, Skillman and A.a. Rodriguez. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman
The opinion of the court was delivered by
On July 29, 1990, plaintiff Patricia Barrett (Barrett) was injured in an accident while a passenger in an automobile owned by Marilyn Brette and operated by Edward Brette. At the time of the accident, Barrett had a personal automobile policy with defendant New Jersey Manufacturers' Insurance Company (NJM), which provided $100,000 of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. The Brettes were also insured by NJM under a policy which provided $500,000 of UIM coverage. The alleged tortfeasor had an automobile policy which provided $100,000 of combined single limit liability coverage.
In addition to Barrett, three other persons filed personal injury claims against the alleged tortfeasor. All of the claimants, including Barrett, submitted their claims to nonbinding arbitration. The arbitrators placed a value of $75,000 upon Barrett's claim and an aggregate value of $225,000 upon the remaining claims. Thereafter, the insurer for the alleged tortfeasor offered to settle Barrett's claim for $25,000, which reflected Barrett's 25% share of the arbitration awards against the tortfeasor.
On March 24, 1994, Barrett's counsel sent a letter to NJM which stated in pertinent part:
I am writing to you pursuant to Longworth v. Van Houten, 223 N.J. Super. 174, 538 A.2d 414 (App. Div. 1988) to advise you of the offer of settlement of the sum of $25,000.00 from the tortfeasor to the Barretts. ... Pursuant to Longworth, kindly advise the undersigned in writing as to whether my clients may issue a release to the tortfeasors for their pro rata share of the settlement in the amount of $25,000.00.
On April 26, 1994, Barrett's counsel sent another letter to NJM which stated in pertinent part:
Please be advised that also insured [the Brettes] under policy number FA7439748 on the date of the accident, July 29, 1990. In the regard, the Barretts' UIM claim will be pro rated between the Brette's policy and Patricia Barrett's policy pursuant to statutory law.
Kindly contact the undersigned at your earliest convenience to confirm that the Barretts' UIM claim will be pro rated between the two policies, and advise as to what documents you will need to adjust the Barretts' UIM claim.
On May 13, 1994, Barrett's counsel sent yet another letter to NJM which stated in pertinent part:
I have yet to receive a response from you with regard to our Longworth letter of March 24, 1994, and my follow-up letter of April 26, 1994 with ...