Generally, New Jersey state law requires an owner of an automobile “registered or principally garaged” in New Jersey to maintain automobile liability insurance based in New Jersey. In addition, New Jersey bars owners of uninsured vehicles from suing tortfeasors who injure them in New Jersey.
In <em><a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a1919-15.pdf"><u>Latonya Dean v. C&D Disposal Services, et al.</u></a></em><em>,</em> a truck rear ended plaintiff’s car as she slowed down for a yellow traffic light in New Jersey. Plaintiff sued for injuries she sustained. Plaintiff’s car was insured under a New York GEICO insurance policy with New York coverage. The defendant moved for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that plaintiff’s vehicle was “uninsured” in New Jersey (notwithstanding the New York policy).
The trial court concluded that plaintiff’s automobile was “principally garaged” in New Jersey at the time of the accident, and was thus required to have an automobile insurance based in New Jersey, rather than in New York. The Appellate Division subsequently constructed the statutory term, “principally garaged” to mean “the physical location where the automobile is primarily or chiefly kept or where it is kept most of the time.” Further, “the physical location where the automobile is primarily kept” is the determining factor as to where the automobile is principally garaged. Since plaintiff spent several days a week caring for her mother in Ithaca; attended school in New York, and interned in New York City, the Appellate Division remanded the matter for an evidentiary hearing.
This case illustrates that under New Jersey law, a plaintiff can be completely barred from recovering from a negligent defendant if the plaintiff fails to maintain an insurance policy properly based in New Jersey. Defense counsel should investigate whether a plaintiff’s automobile is properly registered and properly insured in the appropriate state for a potential summary judgment motion.
Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post.