An Appellate Court Panel recently ruled that a church van is not considered an “automobile” for purposes of the New Jersey Law governing PIP (Personal Injury Protection). PIP benefits include payment of medical bills related to injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The PIP statute requires every standard automobile policy to carry such benefits for the named insured and family household members as well as passengers of the vehicle at the time of the accident. Commercial vehicles do not have to carry PIP benefits.
Vans have always been considered “automobiles,” however, this Appellate panel distinguished between a seven passenger minivan and a 15 passenger van with 5 rows of seating. The large van is not considered an “automobile” for purposes of the PIP statute and is not required to carry PIP benefits for its passengers. The “primary use” of the vehicle is also crucial. If the large van had been owned by a family and used primarily for personal use, PIP benefits may be available. However, in this case, the large van was owned by the church and its primary purpose was to transport church members. Clearly, the Court found, this van was a commercial vehicle and the passengers were not entitled to any PIP benefits from the van’s policy or their own private automobile insurance.