In <a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a0076-12.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i>Shah v. Phoenix Insurance Company</i></a>, the Appellate Division again addressed the question of "occupancy" in determining whether parties are entitled to uninsured motorist benefits.
The plaintiffs in <i>Shah</i> were injured when they were struck by a car while walking towards their vehicle, which was insured by the defendant insurer. At the time of the accident, their vehicle was owned by the employer of one of the plaintiffs. The employer, a corporation, was listed as a named insured on the policy issued by the defendant. The uninsured motorist provision of the policy stated that if the vehicle owner is a corporation, anyone “occupying” the covered vehicle is considered an insured.
At the time of the accident, plaintiffs were approximately two car lengths away from their vehicle and had already unlocked the vehicle via the remote security system contained on the vehicle’s key. Plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to named insured status under the policy, which provided a more flexible definition of “occupying” the vehicle to include “getting in”.
After considering the undisputed facts and reviewing the policy under the appropriate “plain language” standard, the lower court found that “occupying” meant to be physically inside the insured vehicle. The Appellate Court affirmed the lower court ruling and referred to the line of cases where claims for uninsured motorist benefits were denied based upon the broken nexus between the injured party’s occupancy of the vehicle and the subsequent accident.
Thanks to Emily Kidder for her contribution to this post.