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Uninsured Driver Cannot File Suit Under New Jersey Law

March 23, 2016

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A recent New Jersey court revealed that a “good faith” belief that one possesses insurance is not enough to overcome a statute that requires a plaintiff to maintain insurance coverage on their own vehicle. In <a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a1672-14.pdf"><em>Bencosme v. Kannankara</em></a>, plaintiff filed suit against defendant Joseph Kannankara after he was injured in a car accident. During discovery, it was determined that plaintiff was an uninsured driver at the time of the accident. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a) a person who fails to maintain "medical expense benefits coverage . . . shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss." N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a).  Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff was barred from filing suit since he did not maintain insurance coverage. The court granted defendant’s motion, and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing that he should be entitled to maintain coverage since he made a “good faith effort” to obtain automobile coverage.  Apparently, the plaintiff was a victim of a scam, and was under the impression he had insurance coverage at the time of the accident.
The Appellate Court upheld the dismissal, noting that the statute does not make an exception for persons who make a good faith effort to obtain coverage. Since there is no ambiguity in the statute, it should be interpreted pursuant to its plain language.
This case shows that defense counsel should always investigate whether a plaintiff maintained proper automobile insurance coverage at the time of an accident.  If a plaintiff is uninsured, a defendant can seek an early dismissal.
Thanks to Heather Aquino for her contribution to this post.
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