June 10, 2011

Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Bleeker (2011 NY Slip Op 51076(U))


The relevant facts considered by the court in this case included the injuries sustained by the subrogor in an automobile accident, for which the plaintiff insurer seeked reimbursement for medical expenses and workers' compensation benefits paid on behalf of the subrogor. The main issue decided was whether the action was governed by the law of Maryland or New Jersey, as the subrogor initially received temporary workers' compensation benefits in Maryland but ultimately pursued his claim and received a final award in New Jersey. The court held that the action was governed by the law of New Jersey, and that while most of plaintiff's subrogation claims for medical expenses and workers' compensation payments were not recoverable under New Jersey law, the entitlement to reimbursement for disability payments in excess of a certain sum could not be determined until a more fully developed record was available.

Reported in New York Official Reports at Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Bleeker (2011 NY Slip Op 51076(U))

Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Bleeker (2011 NY Slip Op 51076(U)) [*1]
Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Bleeker
2011 NY Slip Op 51076(U) [31 Misc 3d 150(A)]
Decided on June 10, 2011
Appellate Term, First Department
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.
Decided on June 10, 2011


PRESENT: Hunter, Jr., J.P., Schoenfeld, Torres, JJ
Utica Mutual Insurance Company as subrogee of Jack Growney, Plaintiff-Respondent, – –


Rhondi Bleeker, Defendant-Appellant, – and – Chase Manhattan Auto Finance Corporation, Defendant.

Defendant Rhondi Bleeker appeals from that portion of an order of the Civil Court of the City of New York, New York County (Manuel J. Mendez, J.), dated June 7, 2010, which denied her motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

Per Curiam.

Order (Manuel J. Mendez, J.), dated June 7, 2010, insofar as appealed from, modified to the extent of granting defendant-appellant partial summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s cause of action for medical expenses it paid on behalf of its subrogor and so much of the complaint as sought recovery of the initial $5,200 in workers’ compensation payments made to the subrogor; as modified, order affirmed, without costs.

In this subrogation action, plaintiff insurer seeks reimbursement for, inter alia, medical expenses and workers’ compensation benefits paid in lieu of first-party no-fault benefits to its subrogor for injuries he sustained as a result of an automobile accident with defendant, which occurred in New York during the course of subrogor’s employment. Since plaintiff provided a workers’ compensation insurance policy to subrogor’s employer, Knorr Brake Corporation, a Maryland-based company, subrogor initially received temporary benefits processed by Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Commission. Ultimately, however, subrogor, as a New Jersey resident, successfully pursued his additional and final workers’ compensation benefits with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Following discovery, defendant Rhondi Bleeker moved for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that choice of law principles dictate this action to be governed, and consequently barred, by New Jersey and New York laws. Plaintiff cross-moved for partial summary judgment, countering, inter alia, that Maryland law governed. In the order appealed from, Civil Court denied defendant’s motion and plaintiff’s cross motion for [*2]summary judgment, while agreeing with plaintiff that Maryland law applied, thus permitting the continuation of this action. We modify.

While Civil Court properly determined that the law and forum where workers’ compensation benefits were paid will govern an action for reimbursement of those benefits (see New Jersey Mfrs. Ins. Co. v Steckert, 264 AD2d 314, 315 [1999], citing Matter of O’Connor, 21 AD2d 333, 335 [1964]; see Carminucci v Pepsico, Inc., 236 AD2d 499, 501 [1997]; Canfield v Child World, 209 AD2d 569, 569-570 [1994]), and that under Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an insurer is entitled to assert a subrogation claim for reimbursement of benefits paid (see Podgurski v OneBeacon Ins. Co., 374 Md 133, 140 [Md Ct of Appeals 2003]), Civil Court erred in concluding that this action is governed by the law of Maryland.

To the contrary, the record indicates and it is undisputed that plaintiff’s subrogor ultimately pursued his claim with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation, which culminated in an award approving the parties’ “settlement” of the claim based upon a “finding” that “the terms of the settlement are fair and just,” and awarding him permanent disability benefits and deeming the temporary disability awarded in Maryland and medical bills “adequate as p[ai]d.” Since subrogor invoked New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation provisions for an adjudication of his claim and received a final award thereunder, this action is governed by the law of the State of New Jersey (see Williams v A & L Packing and Storage, 314 NJ Super 460, 465-466 [NJ App Div 1998]; Phillips v Oneida Motor Freight, Inc., 163 NJ Super 297, 305 [NJ App Div 1978]; see also Cramer v State Concrete Corp.,39 NJ 507, 511 [NJ 1963]).

Applying New Jersey law to the instant matter, most of plaintiff’s subrogation claims fail. Although New Jersey law authorizes an employer to institute an action against a responsible tortfeasor if the injured person does not do so, “the third party shall be liable only to the same extent as he would have been liable had the employee himself instituted suit within a year of the accident” (Patterson v Adventure Trails, 364 NJ Super 444, 447 [NJ Super 2003], quoting Continental Ins. Co. v McClelland, 288 NJ Super 185, 189-190 [NJ App Div 1996]). As such, plaintiff’s subrogation claim for medical expenses in the principal sum of $7,884.97, and workers’ compensation payments up to the sum of $5,200, that would otherwise have been collectible under a standard personal injury protection endorsement covering the subject loss (see NJSA 39:6A-4; see also Rutgers Cas. Ins. Co. v Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 153 NJ 205, 210 [NJ 1998]), cannot be recovered against defendant (see Patterson v Adventure Trails, 364 NJ Super at 447). Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing these claims should have been granted only to the extent provided.

However, the record is inconclusive as to plaintiff’s entitlement to reimbursement for disability payments, if any, in excess of the above stated sum of $5,200 (see e.g. NJSA 39:6A-10), and resolution of this issue must await a more fully developed record.

Decision Date: June 10, 2011