A man who lives in New Jersey but kept his car registered and insured in Florida may not sue another New Jersey driver for injuries he sustained in a car accident, a judge has ruled.
Essex County Superior Court Judge Patrick Bartels dismissed plaintiff Jeffrey Scholes’ personal injury lawsuit against defendant Stephen Hausmann on Oct. 24.
Bartels ruled that it would violate the state’s automobile insurance statutes to permit Scholes to pursue a claim against Hausmann when he fraudulently maintained a Florida automobile insurance policy while living in New Jersey.
“By any definition, plaintiff was a New Jersey resident,” Bartels said.
According to the ruling, Scholes was “severely injured” when his car was struck by Hausmann’s on Oct. 23, 2014, in South Orange. Scholes was driving north on Academy Street in South Orange when, according to the lawsuit, he was struck head-on by Haumann’s car.
Scholes, the lawsuit said, sustained back injuries that required epidural injections and surgery.
Bartels, however, noted that Scholes had been living and working in New Jersey since 2009, and kept his car here. Nevertheless, because it was more cost-effective, Scholes maintained a Florida insurance policy issued by GEICO, registered his car there and had a Florida driver’s license.
Hausmann moved to have Scholes’ lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that New Jersey law requires that people who live in the state and who have a car here must maintain New Jersey car insurance.
Bartels agreed. “[W]e agree that plaintiff’s automobile is not considered insured pursuant to New Jersey law,” he said.
Scholes had argued that he “technically” had car insurance and that New Jersey’s statutes were only meant to bar injured drivers from suing if they had no insurance themselves.
Bartels disagreed, and noted that Scholes had technically committed a crime in violation of the state’s insurance fraud statute.
“The defendant argues that this statute was specifically revised to prevent reverse rate evasion, which occurs when New Jersey residents or those who principally garage their car in New Jersey seek to obtain cheaper insurance from another state,” Bartels said.
“This illegal conduct is exactly what plaintiff admitted to doing in the instant case,” the judge said. Scholes, the ruling said, testified during a deposition that he never sought to obtain insurance in New Jersey because it would be too expensive.
To allow Scholes to sue Hausmann would “undermine the purpose and policy” of the statutes, and “completely eviscerate” them, Bartels said.
Hausmann was represented by Patricia Holden, of Mount Laurel’s Cipriani & Werner. She was away from her office and unavailable for comment.
Michael Maggiano, of Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, represented Scholes. He maintains that that Scholes had insurance and should be afforded coverage.
Bartels’ ruling is currently being appealed, according to an email from Holden.