Automobiles: N.J.S.A. 39:6A-3.2 requires that all automobile insurance policies include the covereages required by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4, which includes PIP coverage. The term "automobile" is defined in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2 as follows:

a. "Automobile" means a private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type that is owned or hired and is neither used as a public or livery conveyance for passengers nor rented to others with a driver; and a motor vehicle with a pickup body, a delivery sedan, a van, or a panel truck or a camper type vehicle used for recreational purposes owned by an individual or by husband and wife who are residents of the same household, not customarily used in the occupation, profession or business of the insured other than farming or ranching. An automobile owned by a farm family copartnership or corporation, which is principally garaged on a farm or ranch and otherwise meets the definitions contained in this section, shall be considered a private passenger automobile owned by two or more relatives resident in the same household.

Under this statute, two types of vehicles are "automobiles" required to have PIP (three if you include farm vehicles):

  1. Private passenger automobiles (this includes minivans and SUVs, see below) as long as they are not used as a taxi or rented with a driver.
  2. Pickup trucks, vans (which means large vans used for cargo or large numbers of people and therefore typically used by business rather than families), etc. only if they are used for recreational purposes and owned by an individual or husband an wife and are not generally used for the insured's business (other than farm work).

In New Jersey Manufacturers Ins. Co. v. Hardy, 178 N.J. 327, 335, 840 A.2d 231 (2004), the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that the definition of "automobile", "focuses first on the type of vehicle and then examines its use." Take, for instance, a sedan used exclusively for delivering pizzas. This would be a "private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type" and therefore fall under category #1. Since the vehicle was not being used as a taxi or the like, it would qualify as an "automobile," even though it is used commercially. On the other hand, if a pickup truck were used for delivering pizzas, it would be a "a motor vehicle with a pickup body" (category #2) and would not qualify for the definition of "automobile" because it is "customarily used in the occupation, profession or business of the insured." The pizza delivery pickup truck would not require PIP, and would be subject to recovery of PIP. This example makes it clear that speaking of a "commercial vehicle exception" is a gross over-simplification.

Note that in determining whether a private passenger vehicle is a livery or rented with a driver, we look at the general use of the vehicle, not its specific use at the time of the accident. Bello v. Hurley Limousines, 249 N.J. Super. 31, 37 (App. Div. 1991). However, an intersting question arises in the case of vehicles used for such services as Uber and Lyft. Do these vehicles cease to be "automobile"s because they are now used as a livery? Does it matter how often the vehicle is used to transport passengers under these services versus how often it is used personally? In "The Uber Threshold," 219 N.J.L.J. 475, S12; S15, Michael B. Fusco suggests that such a vehicle would cease to be an "automobile" while it is using one of these services, either from the time that the vehicle is "available" or from the time that the the driver picks up the passenger. Although this analysis seems to be at odds with the Bello decision, there is a reasonable argument that this new type of vehicle service requires the "case by case analysis" that Bello rejected for a classical taxi in 1991. We anticipate that this issue will be decided by the courts in the future.

Obviously, it will be important to determine whether a vehicle is a "private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type" (category #1, in which case it requires PIP unless it is a taxi or the like) or a "motor vehicle with a pickup body, a delivery sedan, a van, or a panel truck or a camper type vehicle" (category #2, in which case it only requires PIP if it is not customarily used in business). Here are some cases that clarify this distinction:

Note that certain vehicles may not fit into either private passenger vehicle nor truck and therefore will not be "automobiles," and will be subject to PIP reimbursement claims. For instance, Wilno v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co., 89 N.J. 252, 445 A.2d 713 (1982) held that dune buggies are not "automobiles," and therefore a person injured on a dune buggy is not entitled to PIP benefits. More recently, in an unpublished decision, the Appellate Division found that all terain vehicles (ATVs) are not "automobiles" to which PIP benefits apply. Starner v. Haemmerle, No. A-0153-17T2, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2348, 2018 WL 5273995 (Oct. 24, 2018).

This document is provided as a reference guide only and is provided subject to this disclaimer.

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