Arbitrator Finds No Negligence on the Driver of a Semi-Trailer Truck

A private passenger automobile insurer filed arbitration in Arbitration Forums against a national, commercial trucking insurer under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 seeking reimbursement of the PIP/No-Fault benefits it paid to its insured driver in connection with a motor vehicle accident that occurred in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1. This statute, commonly referred to as the “loss transfer statute,” permits a private passenger automobile insurer, health maintenance organization, or governmental agency that pays PIP benefits (N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4) or other enumerated benefits for a motor vehicle accident occurring in New Jersey, to recover such payments (and certain costs) from any tortfeasor who was not required to maintain PIP or MEB (bus PIP) benefits, other than for pedestrians. The accident here involved an alleged improper lane change by the truck driver (bobtail at the time). The driver of the private passenger automobile claimed that the truck changed lanes, striking the automobile and causing it to spin out of control and hit a building. The driver of the tractor consistently maintained that he did not change lanes and denied feeling any impact. He became aware of the automobile spinning out of control only when he scanned his mirrors. The truck driver immediately stopped to ensure that he was not involved in the accident. Color photographs of the tractor taken at the scene revealed no impact damage.  When questioned as to why he stopped despite believing he did not cause an accident, the truck driver responded, “I am a commercial driver … needing to protect my license, I stopped to make sure I was not involved.”  There were no independent witnesses to support either version. Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP partner Gregory S. Pennington successfully argued that counsel for the private passenger automobile failed to establish negligence on the part of the truck driver by a preponderance of the evidence.  The arbitrator returned a finding of no-cause of action, which is binding.