NJ App. Div. — Arbitral Award Can Be Appealed.

Plaintiff Francine Guarciaro filed suit to recover damages for injuries she allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Interestingly, however, at the time of the incident she informed the responding officer that she was standing on the sidewalk when her vehicle was struck. Plaintiff presented a claim for uninsured motorist’s coverage to her insurer, State Farm Indemnity Company. Needless to say, State Farm declined to provide coverage, and the matter proceeded to arbitration. Plaintiff’s UM endorsement contained the following provision:

“Two questions must be decided by agreement between the insured and us:

1. Is the insured legally entitled to collect damages from the owner or driver of the uninsured motor vehicle or underinsured motor vehicle; and

2. If so, in what amount?

If there is no agreement, these questions shall be decided by arbitration upon written request of the insured or us……..The written decision of any two arbitrators shall be binding on each party unless the amount of the damages awarded exceeds the minimum limit of liability specified by the financial responsibility law of New Jersey. If the amount of the damages awarded in the arbitrator’s decision exceeds that limit, either party may, within 20 days of the arbitrators’ decision, demand a trial. If the demand is not made, the decision of the arbitrators is binding on each party.”

After the arbitration, State Farm rejected the award and requested a trial on all issues. Plaintiff’s counsel responded that, under the policy, State Farm was only entitled to a trial on damages.

In an unreported Appellate Decision, the court held that the language of the endorsement entitled State Farm to a trial on all issues. The court distinguished the language of the subject policy from other cases in which the construction of the endorsement provision limited the trial to the question of damages.

Specials thanks to Heather Aquino for her contributions to this post. If you have any questions, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.