Court overturns award of PIP benefits to family of boy killed by runaway motorcycle
Josh Eddy was struck by a runaway motorcycle at a racetrack, suffered a severe head injury and later died. His parents attempted to recover their substantial medical expenses through a No Fault PIP action against Titan Insurance Company. Because motorcycles don't fall within the "normal" definitions of No Fault, the family initiated the action against Titan becauses it was the insurer of a friend's van. The family sued the van's insurer because the van was parked unreasonably close to the straightaway of the race track (within 60 feet, with only a snow fence and bales of straw as a barrier), and the motorcycle struck it, before careening off and causing Josh's catastrophic head injury. The family argued that parking the van too close to the track created an unreasonable danger of injury to Josh and his companions.
Josh and several friends and family members had congregated around the van to watch the motorcycle races after the owner of the van paid a premium to park it in the pit area so that the owner's son could watch the race from the van's handicap ramp. Josh's family supported their claim with an affidavit from a retired State Police Accident Reconstruction expert: he attested to the fact that the location where the van was parked created an unreasonable risk of danger. The trial court agreed. It rejected Titan's attempt to back out of a stipulation it had entered in court months earlier, and held Titan responsible for PIP benefits based on the unsafe parking location [a parked vehicle's insurer owes PIP benefits only if the vehicle is parked in a manner that is not reasonably safe].
Judges Kathleen Jansen and Brian Zahra overturned the trial court's decision, holding that "[T]he van did not elevate the risk of being struck by an errant motorcycle by parking near the track. At best, the van elevated the risk of being struck by an errant motorcycle by driving closer to the track. The manner in which the van was parked did not cause the risk of being hit by an errant motorcycle." If that semantic bit of judicial activism makes any logical sense, we aren't smart enough to understand it. Neither was the dissenting judge, Bill Murphy, apparently. He would have held that parking too near the track created an "unreasonable risk" as a matter of law and would have upheld the payment of medical expenses to the family.