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N.J. Supreme Court Limits the Rights of Uninsured Passengers

A recent decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court clarifies the rights of uninsured car owners who are injured as passengers in car accidents.

Under New Jersey law, all vehicles must carry automobile insurance, and uninsured drivers are not permitted to sue for the injuries they suffer in car accidents. Until now, however, the law was unsettled as to whether the owner of an uninsured vehicle may sue for injuries suffered while riding in the vehicle as a passenger. The answer, the court says, is no.

The question was brought before the court by Denise Perelli, a New Jersey woman who was injured while riding as a passenger in her own uninsured vehicle. As reported in the Star-Ledger, Ms. Perelli's friend was driving the car when another vehicle pulled into their lane, causing a collision that injured Ms. Perelli and killed her companion.

When Ms. Perelli sued the other driver to recover for her injuries, the Supreme Court ruled that her uninsured status rendered her ineligible to sue even though she was a passenger when the accident occurred.

The law that prevents uninsured drivers from suing for their injuries was intended as a measure to ensure compliance with New Jersey's mandatory car insurance laws. The Supreme Court, in its written decision to dismiss her case, reasoned that allowing Ms. Perelli to sue would circumvent that purpose.

Critics of the decision argue that the court should have allowed the legislature to clarify the ambiguous law, rather than speculating as to what was intended.


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