Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court
Hersh v. County of Morris
Plaintiff Cheryl Hersh worked for defendant County of Morris. The County rented approximately sixty-five parking spaces for its employees in the Cattano Garage, a private parking garage containing several hundred parking spaces located approximately two blocks from Hersh’s office. Although she did not have sufficient seniority to park in a county-owned lot located adjacent to her building, the County granted Hersh permission to park in one of the rented spots, gave her a scan card so she could enter the garage, and instructed her to park on the third level. Shortly after Hersh parked her car and exited the structure, she was struck by a motor vehicle while crossing a public street between the garage and her office. Hersh suffered significant injuries. Hersh filed for workers' compensation benefits. The judge concluded Hersh's injuries were compensable, finding that under New Jersey case law, parking lots provided or designated for employee use are part of the employer's premises for purposes of workers' compensation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The County appealed. The Supreme Court reversed: because the County did not control the garage where Hersh parked, the route of ingress and egress from the parking garage to her office, or the public street where she was injured, and did not expose her to any special or additional hazards, Hersh's injury occurred outside of the employer's premises and therefore was not compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act. View "Hersh v. County of Morris" on Justia Law
Farmers Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of Salem v. N.J. Property-Liability Ins. Guar. Ass’n
In two consolidated cases involving remediation of contaminated properties, the New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association (Guaranty Association) took over the administration of the claims of an insolvent insurance carrier on the risk pursuant to the New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association Act. The solvent insurance company paid the property-damage claims in each of the two cases and then sought reimbursement from the Guaranty Association under the Owens-Illinois methodology. The Guaranty Association claims that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:30A-5 and -12b, it was not responsible for making any contribution until the policies of the solvent carrier were fully exhausted. The solvent carrier contended on appeal that the Guaranty Association must pay the share of the insolvent carrier in accordance with the Owens-Illinois allocation scheme, and that its position is consistent with the PLIGA Act. The trial court agreed that the Guaranty Association is subject to the Owens-Illinois allocation methodology. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that N.J.S.A. 17:30A-5 expressly carves out an exception to Owens-Illinois and requires exhaustion of the solvent carrier's policies before the Guaranty Association's reimbursement commitments are triggered. Finding no error with the appellate court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Farmers Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of Salem v. N.J. Property-Liability Ins. Guar. Ass'n" on Justia Law
Potomac Ins. Co. of Ill. v. Pa. Mfrs. Ass’n Ins. Co.
This case presented an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court: the allocation of defense costs incurred by the common insured of several carriers. Specifically, the issue was whether one insurer with an obligation to indemnify and defend the insured had a direct claim for contribution against its co-insurer for defense costs arising from continuous property damage litigation. Furthermore, the Court considered whether such a claim was extinguished when the insured gave up its claims against the co-insurer in a release negotiated and signed only by the insured and the co-insurer. The dispute arose from construction litigation brought by the Township of Evesham against a contractor, Roland Aristone Inc. for property damage. Although plaintiff, OneBeacon Insurance Company paid half of Aristone's legal fees and defense expenses, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Insurance Company, which also insured Aristone, initially disclaimed coverage and did not pay any of Aristone’s defense costs. The Appellate Division affirmed the portion of the trial court’s decision allocating defense costs among the several insurers. It recognized OneBeacon’s claim for contribution against PMA and affirmed the trial court’s holding that OneBeacon’s claim was not extinguished by the release negotiated by Aristone and PMA. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that, in light of each insurer’s obligation to indemnify and defend Aristone for a portion of the period in which the continuing property damage occurred, the trial court properly held that OneBeacon had a contribution claim against PMA. View "Potomac Ins. Co. of Ill. v. Pa. Mfrs. Ass'n Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Stancil v. ACE USA
Plaintiff Wade Stancil was injured in 1995 while employed by Orient Originals. He received workers' compensation benefits from his employer's compensation carrier, defendant ACE USA (ACE). In 2006, following a trial, the court of compensation determined that Stancil was totally disabled. In 2007, Stancil filed a motion in the compensation court seeking an order compelling ACE to pay outstanding medical bills. During a hearing on the motion, the compensation judge commented that ACE had a history of failing to make payments when ordered to do so. The compensation judge granted Stancil's motion, warned ACE against any further violation of the order to pay, and awarded Stancil counsel fees. The parties returned to the compensation court for a further proceeding relating to the disputed bills. After finding that the bills identified in the earlier order remained unpaid and that ACE's failure to make payment was a willful and intentional violation of the order, the court issued another order compelling ACE to make immediate payment and again awarding counsel fees. In 2008, Stancil underwent additional surgery and psychiatric treatment. Stancil's physician attributed the need for additional treatment to an earlier treatment delay caused by the carrier's delay in paying medical providers. N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -142 (the Act), is the exclusive remedy for the claims pled in the complaint and therefore no damages could be awarded. The trial court granted ACE's motion effectively denying payments for Stancil's 2008 treatment. The Appellate Division affirmed. The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether the employee could sue the carrier for pain and suffering caused by the carrier's delay in paying for medical treatment, prescriptions, and other services. Upon review, the Court concluded that an injured employee does not have a common law right of action against a workers' compensation carrier for pain and suffering caused by the carrier's delay because: (1) the workers' compensation system was designed to provide injured workers with a remedy outside of the ordinary tort or contract remedies cognizable in the Superior Court; (2) in amending the Workers' Compensation Act in 2008, the Legislature rejected a provision that would have given the compensation courts broader permission to authorize a resort to the Superior Court and adopted a remedy that permits compensation courts to act through a contempt power; and (3) allowing a direct common-law cause of action against a carrier would undermine the workers' compensation system by substituting a cause of action that would become the preferred manner of securing relief. View "Stancil v. ACE USA" on Justia Law
Selective Insurance Company of America v. Hudson East Pain Management
A "discrete, narrow legal question" came before the Supreme Court: is a health care provider who has received an assignment of personal injury protection (PIP) benefits from an insured obligated upon request to furnish to the insurer broad information with respect to the provider’s ownership structure, billing practices, and regulatory compliance? Plaintiffs in this matter consist of six “Selective Insurance Company” entities. Individuals insured by Selective sought medical treatment from defendants for injuries received in automobile accidents. Those insureds assigned to defendants the benefits to which they were entitled under their PIP coverage, giving defendants the contractual right to seek PIP reimbursement under those policies. In reviewing claims submitted for payment, Selective detected what it considered to be suspicious patterns in both the treatments defendants had provided and the corporate links among the treating entities. Selective requested that defendant supply to it a variety of data with respect to their ownership, structure, billing practices, and compliance with certain regulations. In support of its request, Selective cited the provision within the insureds’ insurance policies requiring the insureds to cooperate with Selective in the investigation of any claim under the policy. When defendants refused to supply the material Selective sought, Selective sued, alleging that defendants' failure to supply the information was a breach of they duty to cooperate and a violation of the PIP discovery statute. After hearing oral argument, the trial court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss and granted Selective the relief it had requested by directing defendants to respond to Selective’s discovery requests. Defendants thereafter moved for reconsideration, but the trial court denied that motion, together with defendants’ request for a stay. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that an insured had no duty to provide information to plaintiff with respect to the ownership structure, billing practices, or referral methods of the medical providers from whom he or she sought treatment for his or her injuries. Because an insured had no obligation to supply that information to plaintiff, the assignment of benefits executed by an insured could not serve to impose that duty on the providers. View "Selective Insurance Company of America v. Hudson East Pain Management" on Justia Law
Memorial Properties, LLC v. Zurich American Insurance Co.
Plaintiffs Memorial Properties, LLC (Memorial) and Mount Hebron Cemetery Association (Mt. Hebron) are respectively the manager and owner of Liberty Grove Memorial Gardens. Mt. Hebron was sued in 2007 and 2008 in seven lawsuits in the Superior Court of New Jersey and the Supreme Court of New York by family members of decedents whose remains were sent by funeral directors to Liberty Grove for cremation in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The New Jersey and New York plaintiffs alleged that prior to being sent to Liberty Grove, the decedents’ bodies were unlawfully dissected, and that tissue, bone and organs were removed for commercial sale. The families contended that they did not discover the illegal harvesting scheme until 2006, when law enforcement officials who investigated and prosecuted the perpetrators advised them that their relatives’ body parts had been illegally harvested. Memorial and Mt. Hebron contended that they received the decedents’ remains in closed containers and were unaware that the remains had been tampered with before being turned over to the crematory. Memorial and Mt. Hebron were not prosecuted as a result of the criminal investigation of the illegal harvesting. This appeal arose from Memorial’s and Mt. Hebron’s pursuit of a defense and indemnification with respect to the New Jersey and New York litigation, under two insurance policies. The first policy, issued by Assurance Company of America (Assurance), provided coverage for the year 2003 for claims arising from damage to human remains and bodily injury, including mental anguish. The second, issued by Maryland Casualty Company (Maryland), provided analogous coverage for the year 2006, but contained an "improper handling" exclusionary clause, barring coverage for bodily injury or property damage arising from specified acts and omissions including "[f]ailure to bury, cremate or properly dispose of a 'deceased body.'" In 2008, Memorial and Mt. Hebron demanded that Assurance and Maryland defend and indemnify them. Assurance declined coverage on the ground that the occurrences were outside of the policy period, invoking plaintiffs' claims that they learned of the harvesting scheme in 2006. Maryland declined coverage, citing the "improper handling" exclusionary clause in its 2006 policy. Memorial and Mt. Hebron filed a declaratory judgment action on May 14, 2008, naming as defendants Assurance, Maryland and Zurich North American Insurance Company (Zurich), and demanding defense and indemnification. Assurance and Maryland cross-moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied the summary judgment motion filed by Memorial and Mt. Hebron, but granted defendant insurers' cross-motion for summary judgment, identifying the year 2006 as the time frame of the "occurrence" in the two cases for which the insureds sought coverage. The Appellate Division affirmed both of the trial court’s orders granting the summary judgment motions filed by Assurance and Maryland. After its review, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that neither the Assurance policy nor the Maryland policy required the insurer to defend or indemnify Memorial and Mt. Hebron for claims asserted in the New Jersey and New York litigation. The Court affirmed the Appellate Division's ruling. View "Memorial Properties, LLC v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Selective Insurance Company of America v. Rothman
Plaintiff Selective Insurance Company of America declined to pay Defendant Arthur Rothman, MD's claims for needle electromyography (EMG) tests performed by his physician assistant (PA). Defendant took the insurance company to arbitration and won. Subsequently, he filed a complaint in the Law Division to confirm the arbitration award. He also initiated a proceeding in the Chancery Division to secure a declaration that PAs are authorized to perform EMGs. That complaint was transferred to the Law Division. In a consolidated opinion, the trial court affirmed the arbitration award and ruled that PAs are authorized to perform EMGs. The Appellate Division reversed, and Defendant appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that PAs are not authorized to perform EMG tests, finding that needle EMG tests performed by physician assistants were not in the promulgated lists of authorized procedures from the Board of Medical Examiners.
Aronberg v. Tolbert
In this case, the Supreme Court was called to determine whether the heirs of an uninsured motorist killed in an automobile accident had a rightful claim under the Wrongful Death Act or whether N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a) extinguished that claim, as it did the survival action. In 2005, Lawrence Aronberg was driving southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike when a tractor trailer careened into the rear of his car, killing him. The truck was operated by Wendell Tolbert and owned by Fleetwood Taggart (Fleetwood Trucking). On the day of the fatal accident, Aronberg, then thirty-four years old, was an uninsured motorist. Just three weeks earlier, Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company (Allstate) had cancelled Aronbergâs automobile insurance policy because of his failure to keep his premiums current. Plaintiff Sheila Aronberg, as General Administratrix of her sonâs Estate, filed a survivorship and wrongful death action against defendants Tolbert and Fleetwood Trucking. The âSurvivorâs Actâ permits an appointed representative to file any personal cause of action that decedent could have brought had he lived. In contrast, the âWrongful Death Actâ provides to decedentâs heirs a right of recovery for pecuniary damages for their direct losses as a result of their relativeâs death due to the tortious conduct of another. The trial court held that because the decedent did not carry insurance at the time of the accident, his estate could not recoup on its survival claim per N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(a), but could recoup on the wrongful death action. The court found that the Wrongful Death Act granted heirs an independent right of recovery, regardless of the decedentâs failure to procure insurance. The Appellate Division granted defendantsâ motion for leave to appeal and in a split decision affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court held when an uninsured motoristâs cause of action is barred by the uninsured motorist statute, an heir has no right of recovery under the Wrongful Death Act.
Perrelli v. Pastorelle
Plaintiff Denise Perrelli appealed a trial court decision in favor of Defendants Bridget and Paul Pastorelle. Plaintiff believed the last time she sent her car insurance company a check for coverage was in 2005. She believed she had coverage on August 4, 2006, the day she got into an accident with Defendants. Geovanni Velverde, a friend, was driving at the time of the accident. He died of his injuries, and Plaintiff suffered serious injuries. Plaintiff sued Defendants alleging that her injuries were caused by Defendants' negligence. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that as an uninsured motorist, Plaintiff had no right to sue. Upon careful consideration of the arguments and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court found that under the state's "No Fault Act," a person injured while a passenger in her on uninsured vehicle was barred from suing for her injuries.