On December 16, 2019, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued an unpublished decision in Raymond v. Fernandez, A-1933-18T1 (App. Div. N.J. Dec. 16, 2019), in which it affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a motor vehicle negligence lawsuit because the plaintiff had been found to be “culpably uninsured” at the time of the accident. Although not binding on lower courts, the decision affirms New Jersey courts’ commitment to the strict enforcement of New Jersey’s compulsory no-fault insurance laws.
In Raymond, the plaintiff filed a motor vehicle negligence lawsuit against another motorist following a traffic accident, from which she allegedly sustained injuries. After the accident, Plaintiff’s insurance carrier, Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange (“CURE”), retroactively rescinded her automobile insurance coverage on the basis of claimed misrepresentations and omissions in Plaintiff’s application for insurance, and in subsequent renewal applications. These misrepresentations included failure to provide a correct address, and failure to appropriately list members of her household on the applications.
The trial court granted CURE’s motion to void the policy “ab initio,” or as invalid from the outset. N.J.S.A. 39:6A:4-5(a) bars personal injury claims brought by an uninsured vehicle owner, as part of New Jersey’s comprehensive scheme implementing mandatory no-fault insurance throughout the State. Thus, following the court’s voiding of the CURE policy in effect at the time of the subject motor vehicle accident, the alleged tortfeasor defendant moved to dismiss the claim under this statute – known as the “culpably uninsured” rule – and prevailed.
On appeal, Plaintiff contended that she was not “culpably uninsured” because she had paid policy premiums, and because the trial judge had specifically found that she had not committed fraud. Nevertheless, because the policy had been voided due to misrepresentations, the Appellate Division applied the “culpably uninsured” rule and affirmed the dismissal. The Court held that “culpability … is merely a term of convenience used to denote the failure to maintain insurance but not meant to incorporate a specific mental state for which the statute does not provide.” Thus, having not had insurance at the time of the accident, the dismissal was upheld on appeal.
For more information on New Jersey’s automobile insurance laws, or the “culpably uninsured” doctrine, please contact MKC&I’s Tom Emala at email@example.com or at (973) 822-1110.