Insurer Must Defend New Jersey State Suit over Carjacking Coverage

A New Jersey state appeals court revived a policyholder’s coverage bid over injuries incurred during a violent carjacking, holding that a trial court must reconsider a psychiatrist’s finding that the use of an automobile played a significant factor in the assault. The policyholder claimed he was kidnapped at gunpoint by three individuals who drove him around to banks to withdraw money, and the assailants repeatedly beat him throughout the ordeal, throwing him against the car and hitting him with a gun. After one of the assailants crashed the car into a wall and it started to smoke, the policyholder was able to escape and seek help. The policyholder was treated for knee, neck and back pain, and also claimed that he suffered emotional and psychological injuries manifesting in flashbacks every time he saw a white Volkswagen Jetta — the kind of car involved in the incident.

The policyholder then sought uninsured motorist coverage for the accident, but his insurer denied coverage and a superior court judge affirmed, finding that a gun, not the car, was the cause of the policyholder’s injuries. The trial court disregarded the “unfounded” opinion by the policyholder’s psychiatrist that the use of an automobile played a significant factor in the assault, instead of finding that there was no substantial nexus between the policyholder’s PTSD and the vehicle, and granted the insurer’s summary judgment motion.

On appeal, a two-judge panel concluded that this disputed the question of whether a substantial nexus existed between the car and the policyholder’s injuries had to be resolved before summary judgment could be granted. Interestingly, the decision noted, “without the automobile, this incident arguably never could have happened.” On remand, a new judge will have to decide whether the policyholder’s injuries should be covered under his uninsured motorist coverage.

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