Clean the Snow Off Your Car or Pay A Fine

December 28, 2010

In light of the recent blizzard, we thought it would be appropriate to remind everyone that New Jersey law requires that a driver must clear their car of snow and ice before driving. This law applies to both commercial and non-commercial drivers. Under the law, a police officer may pull over a vehicle which has snow and/or ice on any exposed surface (it does not matter if the snow and/or ice has fallen off the car while driving). If a driver is found guilty of driving with snow and/or ice their vehicle, they are subject to a fine of not less than $25 and not more than $75. If snow and/or ice falls of a vehicle and causes an injury or property damage, the driver is subject to a fine of not less than $200 and nor more than $1,000.

Make sure to clean off your car before driving.

— Erik Anderson, Esq.

Reardon Anderson represents the interests of businesses, insurance companies and individuals throughout New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area. Please visit our website at http://reardonanderson.com to learn more about our firm.

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Plaintiffs to be Given Priority Over PIP Carriers Under Proposed Bill

December 21, 2010

On December 13, 2010, the NJ Assembly voted 75 to 0 to approve legislation granting plaintiffs priority over PIP carriers seeking reimbursement for PIP benefits against a tortfeasor’s insurance policy (the Senate passed its version of this bill 37 to 0 on October 18, 2010). This bill was proposed to reverse the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Fernandez v. Nationwide Mutual First Insurance Company, 199 NJ 591 (2009), which found that an injured plaintiff does not have priority to the insurance proceeds of a tortfeasor when a carrier seeks to be reimbursed for PIP benefits it had paid out to that plaintiff.

The Fernandez matter involved a tractor trailer striking Mr. Fernandez and causing significant injuries. Fernandez received $250,000 in PIP benefits under his automobile policy issued by Nationwide. In April 2004, Fernandez sued the trucking company, which was insured by Proformance Insurance Company. In July 2004, Nationwide filed a subrogation claim through arbitration against Proformance seeking reimbursement of the $250,000 in PIP benefits paid to Fernandez. Subsequently, Fernandez settled with Proformance for his personal injuries for $1,000,000. However, Proformance paid Fernandez only $750,000 and deposited $250,000 in court pending the outcome of the PIP arbitration filed by Nationwide.

Fernandez objected to Proformance depositing the $250,000 into court and filed an action seeking the release of those funds to him in fulfillment of his settlement agreement. The trial court found that Fernandez had priority to the Proformance policy and Nationwide was only allowed to recover that amount still available under the Proformance policy (if any) after Fernandez’ recovery. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court and found that Nationwide should be reimbursed for those PIP benefits paid even if Fernandez did not receive his total settlement. Ultimately the Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Division’s decision and found that an injured individual did not have priority to a tortfeasor’s policy of insurance.

The bill passed by the Assembly and Senate amends the existing PIP statute regarding reimbursement to provide:

Any recovery by an insurer, health maintenance organization or governmental agency…shall be subject to any claim against the insured tortfeasor’s insurer by the injured party and shall be paid only after satisfaction of that claim, up to the limits of the insured tortfeasor’s motor vehicle or other liability policy.

The bill now goes to Governor Christie for his consideration.

— Erik Anderson, Esq.

Reardon Anderson represents the interests of businesses, insurance companies and individuals throughout New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area. Please visit our website at http://reardonanderson.com to learn more about our firm.


US Government Proposes Cellphone Ban for Truck Drivers

December 19, 2010

On December 17, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Association proposed a new regulation prohibiting interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand held cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle. Under the proposed rule, a commercial driver found reaching for, dialing or holding a cell phone while driving will face a fine up to $2,750. Additionally, if a commercial driver is found to violate state law regarding hand held devices two times in a three year period they would be subject to a 60 day suspension of their Commercial Drivers License. If a commercial driver is found to violate state law regarding hand held devices three times in a three year period they would be subject to a 120 day suspension of their Commercial Drivers License. A motor carrier found to allow its drivers to utilize hand held devices would be subject to a fine up to $11,0000.

The Department of Transportation has noted that 5,000 people were killed and another 500,000 injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2009. A study of distracted drivers indicates that an individual reaching for a phone while driving is three times more likely to be involved in an accident than an individual who is paying attention to the road. The study also found that individuals dialing their hand held phone while driver were six times more likely to be involved in an accident than an individual who is paying attention to the road.

There is a 60 day comment period on this proposed rule.

— Erik Anderson, Esq.

Reardon Anderson represents the interests of businesses, insurance companies and individuals throughout New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area. Please visit our website at http://reardonanderson.com to learn more about our firm.


Justice Rivera-Soto Will Not Participate in Cases Before the Court

December 16, 2010

On December 10, 2010, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto (Republican) issued two opinions in which he advised that he will not participate in the Court’s proceedings while a temporarily assigned Appellate Division Judge sits on the Court. The controversy stems from Governor Chris Christie’s (Republican) refusal to renominate Justice John Wallace (Democrat) to the Court. Under the New Jersey Constitution, Supreme Court Justices initially serve a seven-year term. After that term expires, the Governor may then renominate the Justice for tenure, allowing the Justice to serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Justice Wallace’s seven-year term was to end on May 20, 2010. However, May 3, 2010, Governor Christie announced that he would not renominate Justice Wallace. This position was consistent with Governor Christie’s campaign pledge to “reshape” the Supreme Court. In not renominating Justice Wallace, it was the first time in the history of New Jersey’s modern constitution (63 years) that a governor refused to renominate a sitting Justice. Normally, as a matter of course, governors would renominate a sitting Justice even if that Justice was from an opposing political party.

After announcing that Justice Wallace would not be renominated, Governor Christie nominated Anne Patterson (democrat) fill the seat being vacated by Wallace. The democratically controlled Senate in turn blocked the nomination of Ms. Patterson. This in turn created a vacancy on the court. Accordingly, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner temporarily appointed Judge Edwin Stern (the senior most Appellate Division Judge) to fill the vacancy.

Despite previously participating in cases with Judge Stern, Justice Rivera-Soto announced on December 10th that he was abstaining from future participation in cases before the Court while Judge Stern sat on the bench. In his abstaining opinion, Justice Rivera-Soto maintained that it is a violation of the State Constitution to temporarily appoint a judge to the Court simply to fill a vacant seat instead of doing so to maintain a quorum (which is 5 Justices). Chief Justice Rabner responded to Justice Rivera-Soto’s opinion by asserting that it is constitutionally permissible to temporarily appoint Judge Stern to the Court. He further added that Justice Rivera-Soto has no basis for refusing to participate in voting and writing decisions and is failing to fulfill his obligation as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the Executive and Legislative Branch respond to Justice Rivera-Soto’s decision to abstain from future court proceedings. Within the Legislative Branch, there has been discussions concerning whether Justice Rivera-Soto should be impeached for refusing to participate.

— Erik Anderson, Esq.

Reardon Anderson represents the interests of businesses, insurance companies and individuals throughout New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area. Please visit our website at http://reardonanderson.com to learn more about our firm.