GENERAL ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY v. JASON MORTARA,

SC 19146

Judicial District of New Haven

 

†††† †Insurance; Choice of Law; Whether Connecticut or New Jersey Law Governs Claim for Underinsured Motorist Benefits Arising out of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Involving a Connecticut Insured.† The defendant, a resident of Connecticut, was injured in a motor vehicle accident that took place in New Jersey involving a tortfeasor from Pennsylvania.† The defendant sued the tortfeasor in New Jersey and settled the case for an amount less than the total amount of coverage available under the tortfeasor's insurance policy.† The defendant then sought underinsured motorist benefits from the plaintiff, which insured the vehicle he was in at the time of the accident under a policy issued in Connecticut.† The defendantís claim was submitted to arbitration in Connecticut, and one of the issues before the arbitrators was whether Connecticut or New Jersey law applied to the claim.† The parties stipulated that if Connecticut law applied, the defendant's failure to exhaust the tortfeasor's insurance policy would preclude him from recovering from the plaintiff.† The arbitration panel ruled that pursuant to Williams v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 229 Conn. 359 (1994), New Jersey law applied and that, under New Jersey law, the defendant was entitled to recover underinsured motorist benefits under the policy.† In Williams, the Supreme Court ruled that, where a Connecticut resident was injured in an automobile accident that occurred in New York state, New York law governed the claim for underinsured motorist benefits.† The plaintiff brought this action seeking a judgment vacating the arbitration award.† The trial court granted the application to vacate, finding that Connecticut law applied and that the defendant was therefore precluded from recovering from the plaintiff.† The court found that, while Williams was somewhat factually analogous to this case in that it also involved a Connecticut resident who was injured in another state by an out-of-state driver, that decision was inapplicable because the principal issue in that case was whether the claimant could recover from the tortfeasor.† It determined that, here, there was no question that the defendant was entitled to recover from the tortfeasor and that the choice of law issue related to a contractual term requiring exhaustion of the tortfeasor's policy.† It then stated that there was a presumption in favor of applying Connecticut law because Connecticut was the state with the most significant relationship to the subject matter of the lawsuit and that New Jersey did not have a sufficient interest to overcome that presumption.† The Appellate Court (141 Conn. App. 571) affirmed the trial court's judgment, adopting its decision as the proper statement of the facts, issues and law.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly applied Williams in affirming the trial court's judgment.†