Commercial Vehicle Accidents, Such as A Dump Truck, May Be Subject to Different Federal and State Regulations, Including Higher Insurance Requirements

Rafanello v. Taylor-Esquivel

Docket No.: A-4397-18T2

Decided November 23, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Truck Crash Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent published decision, the Appellate Division reviewed a trial court’s dismissal of a third party plaintiff Encompass Property & Casualty Insurance Company of America (Encompass) complaint against third party defendant American Millennium Insurance Company (AMIC) seeking reimbursement of PIP payments from a multivehicle accident involving a dump truck.

In Rafanello, plaintiff Ronald Rafanello was rear-ended by a dump truck operated by Taylor-Esquivel in West Orange on Route 280, during the course of his employment with NAB Trucking, LLC (NAB).  Upon impact, Rafanello’s vehicle struck a third motor vehicle owned by plaintiff Neil Prupis. Debris was dumped onto a fourth motor vehicle owned by Angelo Abrego and a fifth motor vehicle owned by fourth-party plaintiff John Henderson. Rafanello suffered personal injuries as a result of the accident. Notably, the dump truck was a 2006 Sterling L-9800 and weighed in excess of 26,001 pounds.

Encompass is the automobile insurance provider for Rafanello. The policy issued by Encompass to Rafanello provided uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage of $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident.

During the application for insurance, NAB did not list Taylor-Esquivel as a driver, as he would not qualify as a covered driver due to his driving history. Also on the application, NAB stated that it engaged in interstate transport.

AMIC issued a Commercial Automobile Policy to NAB for the policy period from August 6, 2015 to August 6, 2016. The policy provided liability coverage of $750,000 per accident on the declarations page.  The policy also includes a step-down provision, which provides for a maximum coverage limit of $35,000 for liability arising from incidents involving an individual who is not listed as a “Covered Driver” under the policy. Taylor-Esquivel was not listed as a covered driver in the “Schedule of Covered Drivers” section of the policy

On October 19, 2015, Rafanello filed an amended complaint against Taylor-Esquivel, Intek, and Encompass alleging he was entitled to underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage from Encompass because there was insufficient insurance coverage under the AMIC policy issued to NAB.  Encompass filed a complaint against AMIC, NAB, Intek, Taylor-Esquivel, and Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Company for reimbursement of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits.

AMIC filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it deposited the “full $35,000 policy limit into the [c]ourt” because the policy’s step-down provision was triggered.  The trial court agreed with AMIC, and dismissed Encompass’ third party complaint.  Encompass appealed, arguing AMIC was obligated to provide coverage of the minimal amount of $750,000 mandated by New Jersey state law and federal law for commercial vehicles.

The Appellate Division reviewed the federal motor carrier safety regulations endorsed by New Jersey. Part of the act provides: “the State will conduct safety audits of interstate and, at the State’s discretion, intrastate new entrant motor carriers under section 31144(g)[.]”

.Further, 49 U.S.C. § 31102(e) provides:

The Secretary shall prescribe regulations specifying tolerance guidelines and standards for ensuring compatibility of intrastate commercial motor vehicle safety laws, including regulations, with [f]ederal motor carrier safety regulations to be enforced under subsections (b) and (c). To the extent practicable, the guidelines and standards shall allow for maximum flexibility while ensuring a degree of uniformity that will not diminish motor vehicle safety.

In the event of a conflict of any of these regulations, they are to be construed as the strictest regulations controlling.

In this case, there was a dispute as to whether NAB actually participated in interstate commerce.  However, the Appellate Division found that whether NAB was participating in interstate or intrastate, or both, the provisions of the minimum insurance requirements for commercial vehicles was still triggered by the regulations.

The Appellate Division reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision, finding that NAB’s participating in any commercial activity, interstate or intrastate was sufficient to subject them the motor carrier safety regulations, mandating a policy of at least $750,000.

Insurance requirements for commercial vehicles in New Jersey are much higher than those for personal private use.  Being involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle such as a dump truck may subject them to a variety of different federal and state regulations, including those higher insurance requirements. If you or someone you know was injured in an accident with a commercial vehicle such as a dump truck, be sure to hire an experienced attorney versed in the federal and state motor carrier safety regulations to get you the largest compensation for your injuries.

For personal injury matters, you pay nothing upfront, and our fee is paid as a percentage of your recovery. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Absecon, Atlantic City, Brigantine, Buena Borough, Buena Vista Township, Corbin City, Egg Harbor City, Egg Harbor Township, Estell Manor, Folsom, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, Hammonton, Linwood, Longport, Margate, Mullica Township, Northfield, Pleasantville, Port Republic, Somers Point, Ventnor, and Weymouth Township.


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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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