An appellate court in New Jersey says that it is. In Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Penske Truck Leasing, Co., CEVA Freight, LLC, and Michael Kika, a recently published decision, the Appellate Division ruled that a self-insured must submit to mandatory arbitration in regard to a PIP reimbursement claim. An arbitrator, not a court, will decide whether the self-insured was negligent and must reimburse the PIP carrier. The decision is important because it is the first such published opinion.
In our post of June 17, 2019, we explained that a PIP-paying insurance carrier has a statutory right of direct reimbursement from a negligent motorist – a “tortfeasor” – not by way of subrogation, but through negotiation or arbitration. In Liberty Mutual, the court reiterated that statutory right and held that CEVA Freight, Inc., a self-insured trucker, is required to arbitrate the issue of whether its employee, Michael Kika, was negligent – thus a tortfeasor – in the operation of CEVA’s truck. If so, CEVA must reimburse Liberty Mutual.
Michael Kika, CEVA’s truck driver, allegedly caused a collision on Route 9 in Monmouth County, New Jersey, by blocking the roadway while attempting to back into a customer’s lot. Eugene Jerinsky, Liberty’s insured, struck the CEVA trailer while operating his pick-up truck. The police investigation and report raise some factual issues of possible fault on Jerinsky’s part. Liberty Mutul made a claim against CEVA for its PIP payments for Jerinsky, and CEVA denied the claim. Liberty sued to compel arbitration, and lost in the lower court. Liberty appealed.
The Appellate Division sided with Liberty. The court reviewed the history and case law regarding the New Jersey No Fault Law, and determined that its clear wording compelled that the issue of CEVA’s liability must be submitted to arbitration. CEVA’s status as a self-insured trucker does not change the conclusion. The Appellate Division endorsed the wording of Liberty’s position that –
. . . CEVA is required to arbitrate the issue of whether Kika was negligent and, therefore, a “tortfeasor,” to determine whether Liberty is “legally entitled” [another statutory phrase] to reimbursement of PIP benefits paid on behalf of Jerinsky
Unless overruled by the New Jersey Supreme Court or the Legislature, the Liberty Mutual decision will now require self-insured commercial vehicle operators to submit to arbitration of PIP carriers’ reimbursement claims.