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New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company v. Hardy

January 27, 2004

NEW JERSEY MANUFACTURERS INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BERNIE J. HARDY, KASON CHEEKS AND HAVERON TOTAL HEALTH, P.A., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 357 N.J. Super. 19 (2003).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The issue in this appeal is whether an individual is entitled to claim Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 to -35 (No Fault Act) under a personal automobile insurance policy when the precipitating accident occurred during work and involved the employer's motor vehicle, a police cruiser.

Defendant-claimant Kayson Cheeks was on duty as a police officer in Newark when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Cheeks suffered injuries and was treated by defendant Haveron Total Health, P.A.. Cheeks, who lived with his father Bernie J. Hardy at the time of the accident, was insured as a resident relative under his father's policy, issued by plaintiff New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. (NJM). Cheeks filed for workers' compensation benefits and also sought PIP coverage from NJM, but NJM denied coverage, claiming that the police cruiser was not a "private passenger automobile" under the No Fault Act and that his workers' compensation provider was responsible for his work-related automobile accident. NJM filed a declaratory judgment action.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the trial judge granted judgment to defendants. The court held: 1) A vehicle owned by a governmental entity, in this case a police cruiser, was a "private vehicle" under the No Fault Act; and, 2) the availability of workers' compensation did not preclude PIP coverage.

A divided Appellate Division panel reversed. The majority ruled that a police cruiser was not a "private passenger automobile" under the No Fault Act because police vehicles are modified for "the hazards they routinely encounter." N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co. v. Hardy, 357 N.J. Super. 19 (2003). In addition, the Appellate Division held that

Cheeks should not be permitted to "circumvent" the workers' compensation statutory framework by transferring the cost of his work-related injuries to NJM. Judge Lisa, dissenting, construed the No Fault Act as excluding from PIP coverage only automobiles used for public livery or rented with a driver. Moreover, Judge Lisa disagreed with the majority that Cheeks was circumventing the workers' compensation system, adding that NJM may seek contribution from Cheek's workers' compensation provider.

This appeal is before us as of right as a result of the dissent by Judge Lisa.

HELD: First-party PIP coverage is available to an employee who is injured while driving a government-owned automobile of a private passenger type.

1. The present dispute concerning construction of the term "automobile" arises in the context of our statutory and regulatory system of mandatory automobile insurance, which includes liability, PIP, and optional uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. The coverage applies to three categories of injured persons: (1) a named insured and resident relatives of that named insured injured in an accident involving any automobile; (2) other persons sustaining injuries in incidents involving an automobile of a named insured, who are permissive occupants or users of a named insured's automobile; and (3) pedestrians injured by an automobile of a named insured. The No Fault Act is given liberal construction in favor of its intended remedial purpose of effecting broad protection for accident victims. (Pp. 5-8)

2. Nothing about the operation of our no-fault system of insurance coverage suggests that an accident victim's access to his or her own first-person PIP insurance coverage is premised on whether the "automobile" involved in the accident is owned by a governmental entity or a private person: "If the legislature had intended to exclude all government-owned vehicles from the No Fault Act's coverage, it would have expressed that intent." Simon v. CAN Insurance Co., 225 N.J. Super. 606, 614-615 (App. Div.), certif.. denied, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice LaVECCHIA

Argued October 20, 2003

This appeal is from an insurance-coverage declaratory judgment action. We must address whether an individual is entitled to claim Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 to -35 (No Fault Act) under a personal automobile insurance policy when the precipitating accident occurred during work and involved the employer's motor vehicle. The defendant-claimant, Kayson Cheeks, was serving as a police officer in the City of Newark when he was injured while on patrol in a police cruiser. A divided Appellate Division panel determined that a specially equipped police car is not a "private passenger automobile" within the meaning of the No Fault Act's definition of "automobile" and held, therefore, that Cheeks was not entitled to PIP coverage. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co. v. Hardy, 357 N.J. Super. 19, 21-24 (2003). This appeal is before us as of right as a result of the dissent by Judge Lisa. R. 2:2-1(a)(2). We reverse.

I.

Plaintiff New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. (NJM) sold a Standard Personal Auto Policy (Policy) to defendant Bernie J. Hardy, Cheeks's father. On February 10, 2001, while on patrol in a police cruiser, Cheeks's vehicle was struck from the rear by another vehicle and he sustained bodily injuries. At the time of the accident, Cheeks lived with his father, and was insured under the Policy as a resident relative.

Defendant Haveron Total Health, P.A., treated Cheeks for his injuries. He submitted a claim for workers' compensation benefits and also sought PIP coverage under the Policy. NJM denied the claim on the basis that Cheeks's accident did not occur while he was a passenger in a "private passenger automobile." NJM also asserted that Cheeks's workers' compensation provider was responsible for this work-related automobile accident, not NJM as his PIP carrier. Haveron accepted assignment of Cheeks's claim and promptly sought arbitration under the Policy. NJM filed this declaratory judgment action in response.

Following the parties' submission of cross-motions for summary judgment, the motion court granted judgment to defendants. The court held that Cheeks was entitled to PIP coverage because, consistent with the definition found in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2a, the police car was "a private vehicle" that "was not being used as a public or livery conveyance for passengers or [being] rent[ed] to others with a driver." In a subsequently issued written opinion, the court expanded on its oral decision, citing Simon v. CNA Insurance Co., 225 N.J. Super. 606 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 113 N.J. 350 (1988), to support its holding that a vehicle owned by a governmental entity can be ...


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