A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Driver of Minivan Used as School Bus Entitled to PIP Benefits

By on July 31, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments

In the case of Taveras v. Roman, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1728 (App. Div. July 16, 2014), the court had to decide on appeal whether a minivan that is used as a school vehicle falls under the definition of “automobile” under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(a). The plaintiff Angela Taveras was injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving home in a minivan owned by her employer, School Tyme Transportation. She applied for PIP benefits from her personal insurer (CURE) who denied her application.

CURE filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting an order that Taveras was not entitled to PIP benefits because the vehicle she was operating was not an “automobile” as defined in the statute. The trial court judge denied the motion. He made no finding as to whether the vehicle qualified as an “automobile.” Instead, he focused on its use at the time of the accident, which was for the plaintiff’s personal use.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order. However, its decision was based upon the classification of the vehicle, not its use.

School Tyme contracted with various school districts for the transportation of special needs children to and from school. It allowed Taveras to use one of the minivans for travel to and from work and to keep the minivan overnight. The collision occurred after the end of her work day, as she was driving home. The minivan’s rear bumper was clearly marked with the words “SCHOOL VEHICLE” and its license plate showed that it had commercial vehicle plates.

The meaning of the term of “automobile in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2 focuses first on the type of vehicle and then its use. The statute establishes two categories of vehicles subject to PIP coverage. The first category applies to “a private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type.” This is to distinguish it from public passenger automobiles, such as taxis and from private freight automobiles, such as trucks.

A minivan would be considered to be a “station wagon type automobile.” Thus, it falls into the first of the categories of automobiles in the statute. Hence, it is not relevant whether it is used for business purposes.

However, CURE argued that the minivan is not an “automobile” because it is a school bus under N.J.S.A. 39:1-1. The Appellate Division found that “school buses” are not excluded from the definition of “automobile.” Hence, the appeals court found that the minivan driven by Taveras was an automobile under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(a) and CURE may not deny her PIP benefits.

 

 

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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