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Plaintiff not Considered Uninsured While Principally Garaging His Motor Vehicle in NJ but Insuring the Vehicle in His Home State of Louisiana

By on September 8, 2017 in Coverage with 0 Comments

In a novel decision, Ledet v. Oller, No. HUD L-2772-16  (Law Div. Aug. 28, 2017),  the court was asked to decide if the plaintiff was considered to be “culpably uninsured” if his motor vehicle was principally garaged in New Jersey while he attended graduate school but insured and registered in his home state of Louisiana. Plaintiff Ledet was involved in an auto accident in New Jersey while operating his 2006 Volvo. Defendant Oller argued that, due to Ledet’s failure to register and insure his motor vehicle in New Jersey, he should be consider uninsured and, hence, barred from suing for his personal injuries pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a).

Plaintiff owned a home in Louisiana since 2009. In 2013, plaintiff temporarily moved from Louisiana to Jersey City to pursue his PhD at NYU. After graduation, he planned to return to Louisiana to attend Tulane Medical School after his anticipated graduation in 2018.

Plaintiff had enlisted in the United States Navy in 2004 upon his high school graduation. After active duty, he was in the Navy reserves until November 14, 2013.

Plaintiff’s vehicle was registered and insured with a USAA Louisiana policy. Plaintiff did have a New Jersey driver’s license. He told USAA that he was living in New Jersey while attending school and USAA told him that he was insured while he was residing in New Jersey. After the accident, USAA provided the plaintiff with PIP coverage of up to $250,000 in PIP benefits. Although plaintiff’s medical bills exceeded the $5,000 medical expense limit on his Louisiana policy, USAA voluntarily paid $15,699.61 in PIP benefits.

Under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a), any person who, at the time of the accident is operating an uninsured vehicle, loses his/her right to sue for his economic and noneconomic loss while operating the uninsured vehicle. This statute gives the uninsured driver a “powerful incentive“ to buy insurance or lose his/her right to sue for injuries suffered in an automobile accident in New Jersey.

Defendant argued that plaintiff failed to comply with N.J.S.A. 39:4-5(a) and, thus, cannot recover his economic and non-economic losses from his accident. Plaintiff, however, contended that he was not operating an uninsured vehicle because it was insured under the USAA Louisiana policy. This statutory provision does not state that the owner must have a New Jersey policy. It only mandates insurance coverage.

The term “uninsured motor vehicle” is not defined in the Title 39 motor vehicle insurance provisions. However, it is defined in N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.1(2)(a)(dealing with uninsured motorist coverage) as a vehicle “for which there is no bodily injury liability insurance or bond applicable at the time of the accident.”

Plaintiff’s USAA policy included out of state coverage. Its policy provided language that its coverage would be provided in the minimum limits of the state in which the accident occurred. It did provide PIP coverage, actually in excess of the minimum of $15,000 in PIP benefits. Thus, plaintiff argued that his claims are not barred under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-45.5(a) because his vehicle was insured.

The Law Division accepted that argument and found that the plaintiff was not uninsured at the time of the accident. Hence, he did not lose his right to sue for his personal injuries suffered in his automobile accident.

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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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