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Out-of-State Pedestrian Injured in New Jersey Not Entitled to PIP Benefits Under Deemer Statute

By on June 23, 2017 in Litigation with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Kathleen Leggette, a Virginia resident, was visiting her daughter at Princeton University and, while crossing the street, she was struck by a New Jersey driver. She was insured by Government Employees Insurance Company (“GEICO”) and claimed that GEICO should provide personal injury protection (“PIP”) coverage to pay for her bills under the Deemer Statute. In Leggette v. Government Employees Insur. Co., 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 63 (App. Div. May 30, 2017), the plaintiff contended that under the Deemer Statute, GEICO should be “deemed” to provide standard PIP coverage while her vehicle was in this state.

Plaintiff’s vehicle was registered in Virginia and she was only in New Jersey to visit her daughter. After parking her car in a Princeton University parking lot, she began crossing the street towards her daughter’s dormitory and she was struck by a car. She incurred $113,825 in bills.

Plaintiff settled her claim with the driver of the automobile but then commenced this action to compel GEICO to provide PIP coverage to pay for her medical bills. She alleged that, GEICO, who was authorized to write insurance in New Jersey, was legally obligated by the Deemer Statute to provide minimum standard automobile insurance policy PIP benefits to her when her out-of-state vehicle was used in New Jersey.

GEICO, however, argued that it should not have to provide PIP benefits because she was injured as a pedestrian and was not using or operating her vehicle at the time of her accident. Thus, it contended that the provisions in the Deemer Statute were not triggered.

The trial court judge agreed with GEICO and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. This appeal ensued, which resulted in a published Appellate Division decision.

The Deemer Statute was enacted in 1985 as part of the State’s no fault automobile insurance plan. It provided insurance coverage for New Jersey residents injured in accidents caused by out-of-state drivers whose insurance coverage was less than New Jersey’s statutory requirements. It also provided out-of-state drivers with New Jersey’s no fault PIP benefits but, in exchange, out-of-state drivers would be subject to the lawsuit threshold, should they decide to sue for their injuries.

The Deemer Statute requires an insurer, who is authorized to write insurance in New Jersey, to provide PIP benefits for an out-of-state driver “whenever the automobile or motor vehicle insured under the policy is used or operate in this State…” The Appellate Division focused on that language, however, to find that there must be a causal connection between the use or operation of the vehicle and the accident.

Here, plaintiff had left her vehicle, locked the doors, walked away from it and was crossing the street when she was struck by a vehicle. At the time of the accident, her use of her vehicle had ended. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s interpretation of the Deemer Statute that merely driving a vehicle into New Jersey would trigger this statute. Rather, the Court found that there must be a substantial nexus between the out-of-state vehicle and the accident for which benefits are sought. Because the negligent act that caused the plaintiff’s injury was not related to her use of the vehicle, the Appellate Division ruled that the Deemer Statute was not applicable to extend PIP coverage to her to pay for her medical bills.

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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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