In New Jersey Manufacturers Ins. Co. v. Hardy, 178 N.J. 327, 335, 840 A.2d 231 (2004), the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that the definition of "automobile", "focuses first on the type of vehicle and then examines its use." Take, for instance, a sedan used exclusively for delivering pizzas. This would be a "private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type" and therefore fall under category #1. Since the vehicle was not being used as a taxi or the like, it would qualify as an "automobile," even though it is used commercially. On the other hand, if a pickup truck were used for delivering pizzas, it would be a "a motor vehicle with a pickup body" (category #2) and would not qualify for the definition of "automobile" because it is "customarily used in the occupation, profession or business of the insured." The pizza delivery pickup truck would not require PIP, and would be subject to recovery of PIP. This example makes it clear that speaking of a "commercial vehicle exception" is a gross over-simplification.
Note that in determining whether a private passenger vehicle is a livery or rented with a driver, we look at the general use of the vehicle, not its specific use at the time of the accident. Bello v. Hurley Limousines, 249 N.J. Super. 31, 37 (App. Div. 1991). On the other hand, whether a vehicle used for a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft is treated like an automobiel or a livery is dependent on how the vehicle is being used at the time of the accident. See discussion below.
Obviously, it will be important to determine whether a vehicle is a "private passenger automobile of a private passenger or station wagon type" (category #1, in which case it requires PIP unless it is a taxi or the like) or a "motor vehicle with a pickup body, a delivery sedan, a van, or a panel truck or a camper type vehicle" (category #2, in which case it only requires PIP if it is not customarily used in business). Here are some cases that clarify this distinction:
Another interesting question, related to vehicles other than private passenger vehicles, is whether the vehicle is "customarily used in" the insured's business. Using a vehicle to drive to and from job sites, even while occasionally carrying materials for work, may not qualify as such "customary use." See Cheatham v. Unsatisfied Claim & Judgment Fund Bd., 178 N.J. Super. 437, 443, (App. Div. 1981). The result may be different if the vehicle is uniquely capable of transporting the material or if it is used more often to transport the material.
Note that certain vehicles may not fit into either private passenger vehicle nor truck and therefore will not be "automobiles," and will be subject to PIP reimbursement claims. For instance, Wilno v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co., 89 N.J. 252, 445 A.2d 713 (1982) held that dune buggies are not "automobiles," and therefore a person injured on a dune buggy is not entitled to PIP benefits. More recently, in an unpublished decision, the Appellate Division found that all terain vehicles (ATVs) are not "automobiles" to which PIP benefits apply. Starner v. Haemmerle, No. A-0153-17T2, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2348, 2018 WL 5273995 (Oct. 24, 2018).
Is a rideshare vehicle (e.g. uber, Lyft) an automobile? Rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft are called TNCs (Transportation Network Companies). N.J.S.A. 39:5H-2’s definition of a "Personal vehicle," (i.e. a vehicle used for TNCs) provides that "A personal vehicle shall not be considered an automobile as defined in …. (C.39:6A-2) while a transportation network company driver is providing a prearranged ride." As defined in that section, a "prearranged ride" begins when the driver accepts a ride request and ends when the last passenger departs the vehicle. Hence, during that time the vehicle is not obligated to have PIP coverage (CF N.J.S.A. 39:5H-10) and is thus subject to PIP reimbursement claims under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 On the other hand, N.J.S.A. 39:5H-10b(2) provides that when a "driver is logged on to the transportation network company’s digital network and is available to receive a prearranged ride request, but is not providing a prearranged ride," it requires PIP. Hence, such a vehicle would be protected from PIP reimbursement claims as long as it is properly insured.As to which insurer(s) of the TNC may be liable for the PIP reimbursement claim, see the discussion on our main NJ PIP page under "Who is the liability insurer of a TNC vehicle?").
For a discussion of who provides PIP coverage to a TNC vehicle, see our discussion of who (if anyone) should pay PIP when the injured person is in a TNC vehicle" here.
An interesting question might arise if a vehicle that would otherwise not require PIP (e.g. a pickup truck or a taxi) happened to log in to a TNC network. Would N.J.S.A. 39:5H-10b(2) require PIP for that vehicle and if so would that vehicle thus be exempt from liability for PIP reimbursement claims during that time?
Note that the viability of a reimbursement claim may turn on how the at-fault vehicle was being used at the time of the accident. N.J.S.A. 39:5H-12(c) requires that TNCs provide, "upon request by directly involved parties or any insurer of the transportation network company driver … the precise times that a transportation network company driver logged on and off … in the 12-hour periods immediately preceding and immediately following the accident." It also requires any insurer providing coverage under N.J.S.A. 39:5H-10 to "disclose, upon request by any other insurer involved in the particular claim, the applicable coverage, exclusions, and limits provided" under its policy. Interestingly, this provision does not require the TNC to provide the times that the driver was providing a prearranged ride. One helpful investigative tool can be to check the "vehicle use" bod on the New Jersey Police Crash Investigation Report NJTR-1. The 2017 form has this at boxes 110 and 111. According to the Crash Report Manual, "if the driver is actively engaged in transporting a passenger or is in route to picking up a passenger due to hire, the vehicle use should be indicated as 02 – Business/Commerce." Thus, a 02 for vehicle use may indicate that a vehicle was being used to provide a prearranged ride at the time of the accident.
Note that the technical term for popular "rideshare" services such as Uber and Lyft in the New Jersey statutes is "Transportation Network Company" (TNC). The term "rideshare" is used in the New Jersey statutes to refer to such things as carpools. The issues discussed here do not relate that form of rideshare. See N.J.S.A.39:5H-2's definition of "Prearranged ride.
This document is provided as a reference guide only and is provided subject to this disclaimer.