In a recent decision approved for publication, the Appellate Division tackled an issue of first impression as to whether an out-of-state automobile insurance policy is deemed to provide PIP benefits when the named insured, while a pedestrian, is injured by a New Jersey driver pursuant to The Deemer Statute. N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, generally requires an insurer, authorized to do business in New Jersey, to provide PIP coverage for policies sold outside of New Jersey, whenever the insured automobile is “used or operated” in this state. In Leggette v. Gov’t Emples. Ins. Co., 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 63, the Appellate Division held that coverage under the Deemer Statute requires that there be a “substantial nexus” between the out-of-state vehicle and the accident for which benefits are sought.
In Leggette, the plaintiff was a Virginia resident that driving to Princeton, New Jersey to visit her daughter at Princeton University. Once plaintiff arrived, she parked her vehicle in a parking lot and began walking toward her daughter’s dormitory. While crossing the street, within a crosswalk, plaintiff was struck by an automobile. Consequently, plaintiff suffered injuries and incurred medical expenses. At the time of the accident, plaintiff drove a vehicle registered in Virginia and insured by GEICO. After the accident, plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment complaint seeking personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, pursuant to the Deemer Statute.
At the Trial Court, both parties filed competing summary judgment motions. The trial judge initially accepted plaintiff’s position that since the defendant was authorized to conduct business in New Jersey, it was legally obligated by the Deemer Statute to provide minimum standard automobile policy PIP benefits. However, the defendant refuted this position and argued that since plaintiff was a pedestrian at the time of the accident, and was not using or operating her vehicle, coverage under the Deemer Statute was not triggered. Based upon the trial court’s ruling, the defendant moved to vacate the order and sought dismissal of the complaint. On review, the Trial Court reversed its decision and concluded that a party must be using or operating his or her vehicle at the time of the accident to trigger Deemer coverage.
On appeal, plaintiff argued that the statute’s provisions extend to any vehicles “that enter into and travel around New Jersey, irrespective of the automobile’s direct involvement in the accident.” citing Indem. Ins. Co. v. Metro Cas. Ins. Co., 33 N.J. 507, 166 A.2d 355 (1960). The defendant again argued that in order for plaintiff to receive coverage under the Deemer Statute, there must be a nexus between the out-of-state automobile and the accident itself. The Appellate Division agreed with the defendant’s position that the Deemer Statute is only triggered when there is a “substantial nexus” between the use and/or operation of the automobile and the subject accident. The Appellate Division found that plaintiff had parked her car, locked the doors, walked away, and exited the parking lot when she was stuck by the automobile. At the time plaintiff sustained her injuries, her use of her vehicle had ended. As such, the Deemer Statute is inapplicable to a pedestrian accident which was not the consequence of plaintiff’s use of her automobile.
Based on this holding, the Court has drawn a line in the sand as to when an out-of-state plaintiff is permitted to receive PIP benefits under the Deemer Statute. According to this opinion, in order for a plaintiff to receive PIP benefits under the Deemer Statute, his or her injuries must relate to the use and/or operation of the vehicle at the time of the accident. If there is more than a temporary break in plaintiff’s use and/or operation of the vehicle, the vehicle becomes unrelated to the events of the accident and the Deemer Statue is not triggered. This ruling is a welcomed relief in that it provides a clear test as to when the Deemer Statute applies to an out-of-state plaintiff.
 Philip A. Lundell, Jr., Esq. is a Shareholder in GRSLB&G’s Litigation Department. He defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey State and Federal Courts. Phil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Mark E. Zabel, Jr., Esq. is an Associate in GRSLB&G’s Litigation Department. He defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey State and Federal Courts. Mark can be reached at email@example.com.