Obviously, everyone who drives an automobile knows that they are required to carry adequate and valid insurance for their car(s). However, people who are divorced, and especially those in the process of getting a divorce, should make sure there is no miscommunication with the other spouse as to precisely who is responsible for auto insurance. To this end, the Appellate Division recently addressed this issue in an unpublished decision, Dema v. Breslin (A-3504-09, December 7, 2010), wherein it affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit for injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle accident, which occurred two weeks after her divorce was finalized, because it turned out her car was uninsured. The statute upon which the trial court relied on in this case, and later the Appellate Division, in reaching this conclusion was N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5, a law stating that “any person who, at the time of an automobile accident resulting in injuries to that person, is required but fails to maintain [proper automobile insurance], shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or non-economic damages.”
The automobile being driven by the plaintiff at the time of the accident in the above case was registered in the name of the plaintiff’s husband, from whom she had just been divorced two weeks prior to her accident, and was given to the plaintiff as part of equitable distribution of her and her husband’s assets. However, the Court found that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5 was intended to be construed objectively and in light of the policy underlying New Jersey’s no-fault scheme, which in turn essentially rendered moot the plaintiff’s equitable arguments for why her car was uninsured. As such, the Court then went on to hold that although the title of the plaintiff’s car had not yet technically been transferred to her, she was nevertheless considered the “beneficial owner of the vehicle,” and therefore it was ultimately her responsibility to maintain such insurance.
The Appellate Division therefore found that the defendant was entitled to have the plaintiff’s complaint dismissed due to her technical violation of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5, despite the fact that not only did the plaintiff have no idea her car was actually uninsured at the time of the accident, but also that it was the plaintiff’s ex-husband who in fact was the one responsible for maintaining it until the title was transferred to the plaintiff and it was he who failed to do so. Thus, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding one’s situation, it is crucial that a person injured in an automobile accident retain counsel experienced in and knowledgeable about these matters.