NJ Bodily Injury Actions Barred Unless Vehicles Principally Garaged In New Jersey Have Requisite PIP Benefits

By: Gina M. Zippilli, Esq.

N.J.S.A. 39:6B-1 mandates that all cars either registered or principally garaged in New Jersey must “maintain minimum amounts of standard, basic or special liability insurance coverage for bodily injury, death and property damage caused by the vehicles.”  The Appellate Court in Guerrero v. Moore et al. addressed this standard.

Plaintiff, a NJ resident, was involved in a motor vehicle collision in Camden, New Jersey, which resulted in plaintiff sustaining back injuries.  At the time of the accident, the vehicle plaintiff was driving was titled and registered in plaintiff’s name at an address in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The vehicle was insured under a Pennsylvania policy that provided $5,000 in medical expenses coverage, the policy limit.   Plaintiff, however, moved to New Jersey three months prior to the accident but never changed her registration and never obtained New Jersey insurance coverage.  Plaintiff confirmed at deposition that the vehicle insured under the Pennsylvania policy was kept at her New Jersey residence.

After bringing a personal injury action against the tortfeasor and various other defendants, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff was required under New Jersey law to have the minimum $15,000 in Personal Injury Protection (“PIP) benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 to 25 as a predicate to suing for damages.  The trial court agreed and found that plaintiff’s lawsuit must be dismissed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5  for “failure to maintain the required medical expense coverage.”

Plaintiff appealed arguing that the vehicle was not uninsured because the vehicle in fact carried insurance, although under a Pennsylvania policy.  In rejecting plaintiff’s argument, the Appellate Division reasoned that plaintiff’s vehicle was principally garaged in New Jersey and therefore New Jersey insurance was required.  Here, the Pennsylvania policy, which only carried $5,000 in coverage, fell short of the requisite $15,000 minimum NJ PIP coverage and thus plaintiff’s action was barred.