A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Plaintiff Was Not Entitled To UIM Benefits From Brother’s Policy Due To Coverage Being Provided Under His Own Personal Vehicle

By on December 3, 2021 in Claims with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Christopher Ricciardi sued Allstate Insurance Company for underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.  He was injured in a January 15, 2017 collision with an underinsured motorist while driving his brother’s pickup truck during their move to Florida.  Allstate insured his brother’s pickup truck.  Plaintiff had a personal vehicle insured by GEICO.  The issue in Ricciardi v. Allstate Insurance Co., 2021 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2565 (App. Div. Oct. 27, 2021) was whether the plaintiff was entitled to UIM coverage under his brother’s policy as a resident relative. 

The motorist that collided with the pickup truck had a $50,000 bodily injury policy, which was tendered by the driver’s insurance carrier to the plaintiff.  However, the plaintiff sought coverage as a resident relative under his brother’s Allstate policy, which provided up to $250,000 UIM coverage.  Plaintiff had a personal vehicle which was insured by GEICO, which limited UIM coverage for bodily injury claims to $25,000.

Hence, there would not be any UIM coverage available to the plaintiff under his personal policy because the tortfeasor’s policy exceeded his UIM policy limits.  Therefore, the plaintiff pursued his brother’s policy for the higher UIM benefits of $250,000. 

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff and his brothers were en route to Delray Beach, Florida, to move into a new apartment with their lease starting that same day.  For the three months prior to the move, they had lived together in their parents’ Scotch Plains, New Jersey home.  Before moving into his parents’ home, the plaintiff had resided for several years in Brooklyn, New York with his girlfriend.  His driver’s license and the GEICO policy were issued in New York State. 

In response to plaintiff’s claim for UIM coverage, Allstate denied coverage.  It asserted that plaintiff was a non-resident operator of its insured’s vehicle and, thus, its policy’s UIM limits would “step down” to the mandatory minimum specified by the laws of New Jersey, i.e. $15,000.  Allstate had previously denied plaintiff’s claim for personal injury protection benefits, asserting that plaintiff’s GEICO policy was primary.

Nevertheless, plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Allstate, seeking a declaration that he qualified as a “resident relative” of his brother’s household and he should be entitled to UIM benefits from Allstate.  After motion practice, the trial court judge ultimately agreed with Allstate.   

Allstate provided the language in its policy concerning UIM limits, which provided coverage of $250,000 to the named insured or resident relative but not one who is the named insured on another policy.  For someone who was a named insured on another policy, it would only provide $15,000 of coverage.  Because plaintiff was the named insured on his own GEICO policy, Allstate argued that his claim clearly fell within the $15,000 UIM coverage limits.

There was some issue as to the plaintiff’s intention as to his residence and whether he qualified as a resident relative.  However, upon appeal, the Appellate Division noted that “even assuming plaintiff qualified as a resident relative under the Allstate policy, he was not entitled to UIM coverage because he was insured under his own automobile policy.”  The UIM step-down provision was clear and unambiguous.

While the litigation had focused on the residency defense and the Court conceded that Allstate could have pursued its defense that plaintiff’s GEICO coverage precluded full UIM coverage under the step-down provision of Allstate’s policy much sooner, that did not preclude the order for summary judgment in favor of Allstate.

The Appellate Division noted that Allstate had notified plaintiff as early as the day after the accident that it denied his PIP claim because plaintiff was covered by his GEICO policy. Although Allstate had not disclaimed coverage specifically under the step-down provision, in its Affirmative Defenses, it pled the UIM statute and specifically asserted plaintiff was insured by GEICO in its answer to plaintiff’s interrogatory regarding the factual basis for its Affirmative Defenses.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s ruling that plaintiff was not entitled to UIM coverage under the Allstate policy as a resident relative.

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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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