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Insurance company may be held liable for damages in carjacking.

A New Jersey appeals court has found that a carjacking victim can seek damages for pain and suffering under her auto insurance policy. (Grabowski v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 784 A.2d 754 (N.J. App. Div. 2001).)

Jennifer Grabowski was attacked by a carjacker and broke her leg when she was pushed or fell from the car during the struggle. Her insurance company, Liberty Mutual, paid her medical bills under the no-fault personal-injury section of her policy but said it wasn't liable for additional claims because she was injured during the commission of a crime, which was not covered by the policy.

Grabowski argued that the carjacker was an uninsured motorist (UM), and her UM protection should cover her injury. However, Liberty Mutual refused to proceed with arbitration.

After a lower court sided with the insurance company, she appealed, asking the appeals court to declare that UM coverage did apply and to compel Liberty to name an arbitrator.

The court focused on who was operating the vehicle--Grabowski or the carjacker--when she was injured, and whether her injuries were caused by falling out of the vehicle or by an intentional criminal act.

It relied on its earlier decision in Longo v. Market Transition Facility (741 A.2d 149 (N.J. App. Div. 1999)), which found that when a person sustains injuries arising out of the operation of an otherwise insured vehicle under circumstances "amounting to theft or the like," the vehicle is uninsured, and the UM section of the automobile's insurance policy applies. Thus, the court concluded that Grabowski's carjacked vehicle was rendered uninsured.

Because the carjacker did not intend to harm her, her injuries were a "natural consequence" of his effort to gain control of the vehicle--in other words, the result of an accident.

In accordance with the wording of Liberty Mutual's insurance policy, Grabowski was entitled to arbitration to determine the amount of reimbursement for her injury.

"The language was clearly in our favor, or at least ambiguous," said her attorney, Kenneth Andres Jr. of Haddonfield, New Jersey. "Filing an appeal seemed like the right thing to do."

He said the decision reflects an important social policy: "Carjacking in urban areas is a big concern to the driving public, and when people pay for uninsured motorist protection, they should be entitled to it."
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Author:Porter, Rebecca
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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