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NJ Sup. Ct. Bars Heirs Wrongful Death Claim Where Decedent Was Uninsured Motorist

August 30, 2011

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In Aronberg v. Tolbert , the Supreme Court considered whether the heirs of an uninsured motorist killed in a motor vehicle accident have a claim under the Wrongful Death Act , N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 et seq, or whether N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a) which bars a lawsuit for personal injuries by an uninsured motorist, also bars the survival action.
The Appellate Division in affirming the trial court, found that the Wrongful Death Act granted the heirs an independent right of recovery, regardless of the decedents failure to purchase mandatory automobile insurance. The panel, in part, found nothing in the language of 39:6A-4.5(a), which supported a Legislative intent to punish innocent family members who are the beneficiaries under the Wrongful Death Act, for the decedent's act of driving while uninsured.
The Supreme Court reversed finding that when an uninsured motorist's claim is barred by 39:6A-4.5(a) , an heir has no right to recovery under the Wrongful Death Act. It determined that the Legislature intended for the 39:6A-4.5(a) lawsuit bar to also apply to the decedents's next of kin in a wrongful death action.
Aronberg v. Tolbert ( A-9-10) decided August 9, 2011.
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