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New Jersey Supreme Court Weighs UIM Issues

June 19, 2009

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In Bardis v. First Trenton Insurance Company, plaintiff John Bardis was injured when his automobile was involved in a three car accident caused when a vehicle driven by Joseph Bologna hit the vehicle behind plaintiff’s, pushing it forward. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was insured by defendant First Trenton Insurance Company. Bardis included First Trenton in the litigation under an UIM theory for costs beyond Bologna's insurance coverage.
Three issues were raised: (1) whether, in a jury trial arising out of Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, the insurer should be identified as the defendant, (2) whether in the UIM trial, evidence that the insurer authorized payment of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits is relevant to whether there is a causal connection between the accident and the claimed injuries, and (3) whether in the unusual circumstances of this dispute, the UIM carrier’s disavowal of knowledge of the source of payments for the medical treatment of plaintiff’s injuries deprived plaintiff of a fair trial.
The Supreme Court concluded that (1) there are strong reasons supporting the rule that the UIM litigation proceed in the name of the tortfeasor rather than the insurer, (2) payment of PIP benefits for treatment of an injury is irrelevant to the question of causation of that injury, and (3) the trial court’s error in admitting evidence of PIP payments led to the use of a stipulation identifying an employee of the insurer as having authorized those payments, and to the closing argument by counsel disavowing both his own and the actual tortfeasor’s knowledge about that employee and her decisions.
Thanks to Sheila Osei for her contribution to this post.
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