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A New Jersey court has ruled that a limitation in the injured plaintiff’s domestic partner’s auto insurance policy applied to him even though they had never gotten legally married.

The Case

Robert F. Calderone alleged that he was injured when his car was struck by a vehicle driven by Michael DeFeo II that was owned by Michael DeFeo.

Mr. Calderone sued the Defeos, who moved for summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Calderone was subject to the New Jersey lawsuit limitation, commonly known as the “verbal threshold,” which provides for lower premium payments in exchange for the insured foregoing any lawsuits for non-economic damages unless the insured suffered a serious bodily injury that satisfied the statutory minimum.

For his part, Mr. Calderone argued that he was not bound by the verbal threshold policy entered into by his domestic partner, Joseph Amorino, despite being listed on the policy as a member of Mr. Amorino’s household and residing with him for the past 38 years. Mr. Calderone based this argument on the fact that he and Mr. Amorino had never entered into a civil marriage, which meant that Mr. Calderone was neither the “spouse” nor the “immediate family member residing with the insured” for the purposes of Mr. Amorino’s insurance policy, thereby rendering him able to bring his lawsuit against the DeFeos without being precluded by the verbal threshold limitation.

In response, the DeFeos argued that Mr. Calderone was subject to the verbal threshold limitation because Mr. Amorino’s insurance policy included both domestic partners and married spouses. For this reason, the DeFeos argued that Mr. Calderone was bound by the lawsuit limitation contained in Mr. Amorino’s policy and was precluded from bringing his suit against them.

The Court’s Decision

The court granted the Defeos’ motion.

In its decision, the court explained that Mr. Amorino’s insurance policy stated that it included an immediate family member residing with the insured, the spouse of the insured, and “the domestic partner who is registered as such under any states domestic partner or civil union law.”

Therefore, the court continued, because Mr. Calderone was the domestic partner of Mr. Amorino, as a matter of law he was within the terms of Mr. Amorino’s insurance policy and was subject to the verbal threshold.

Moreover, the court continued, the declarations page of Mr. Amorino’s policy “clearly” indicated that Mr. Calderone was a “Licensed Operator Resident in Your Household” under Mr. Amorino’s policy who had been added as a member of Mr. Amorino’s household “so he could derive coverage from that policy.”

Because the policy was a “limitation on lawsuit” policy, the verbal threshold applied to Mr. Calderone, the court found.

The court was not persuaded by Mr. Calderone’s argument that he was not covered by Mr. Amorino’s policy because he and Mr. Amorino had never gotten legally married in New Jersey, as they were permitted to do. The court pointed out that the policy itself included both a spouse, member of a civil union, or a domestic partner as an insured, concluding that “[r]egardless” of whether Mr. Calderone had married Mr. Amorino or remained his domestic partner in a civil union, it was “exceptionally clear” that Mr. Amorino’s policy intended to include both categories of relationship as those who were insureds, and, therefore, subject to the lawsuit limitation.

The case is Calderone v. DeFeo, No. L-2146-17 (N.J. Super. Ct. Sep. 28, 2018). Attorneys involved include: Angelo S. Catanzariti, for plaintiff Corradino & Papa, LLC, Clifton, NJ; Denise M. Luckenbach, for defendants Sellar Richardson, PC, Livingston, NJ.

Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., is the Director of FC&S Legal, the Editor-in-Chief of the Insurance Coverage Law Report, and the Founder and President of Meyerowitz Communications Inc. As FC&S Legal Director, Mr. Meyerowitz, a member of the team that conceptualized FC&S Legal, provides daily analysis and commentary on the most significant insurance coverage law decisions from courts across the country and news regarding legislative and regulatory developments. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Mr. Meyerowitz was an attorney at a prominent Wall Street law firm before founding Meyerowitz Communications Inc., a law firm marketing communications consulting company.