Supreme Court of New Jersey affirms: Accidents involving low speed scooters are ineligible for Personal Injury Protection Benefits in New Jersey

On May 14, 2024, the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed last summer’s Appellate Division decision that a plaintiff injured while operating a low-speed electronic scooter did not qualify for Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) benefits. See Goyco v. Progressive Insurance Co., No. A-12-23-088497 (N.J., May 14, 2024).

David Goyco sustained an injury on November 22, 2021, when his Segway Ninebot KickScooter Max collided with a motor vehicle. He sought PIP benefits from his household automobile insurer.  Progressive determined that he was ineligible for PIP benefits as he was not in an automobile and he was not a pedestrian at the time of the accident. Mr. Goyco disagreed, arguing that a low-speed electronic scooter is equivalent to a bicycle, and he is therefore entitled to pedestrian PIP benefits.

In New Jersey, motorized scooters are generally in the same category as motorcycles, and therefore not subject to statutory PIP benefits. See Muto v. Kemper Reinsurance Co., 189 N.J.Super.417 ,422 (App. Div. 1983) (“A motorcycle does not fall within the definition of an automobile…”; see also Gerber v. Allstate Ins. Co., 161 N.J.Super. 543, 391 A.2d 1285 (Law Div. 1978) (holding that a motor scooter is a motorcycle); Bingham v. Home Indem. Co., 146 N.J.Super. 166, 369 A.2d 47 (Law Div.1976) (holding that a motorcycle is not an “automobile” and its operator is barred from PIP recovery).

On the other hand, applicable New Jersey law places a bicycle in the same category as a “pedestrian” and affords pedestrian PIP benefits to individuals operating a bicycle that is involved in an accident with a motor vehicle. See Harbold v. Olin, 287 N.J. Super. 35 (App. Div. 1996) (“A person riding a bicycle is considered a pedestrian for purposes of [New Jersey] automobile insurance laws.”). That is, as long as the bicycle was not motorized or self-propelled. Nunag by Nunag v. Pennsylvania Nat. Mut. Cas. Ins. Co., 224 N.J. Super. 753, 758, 541 A.2d 306, 308 (App. Div. 1988) (holding that mopeds are always to be considered as being vehicles propelled by other than muscular power).

In May 2019, N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 definitions were modified to include “low-speed electric bicycles” and “low-speed electronic scooters,” in addition to motorized scooters. On May 13, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued a press release explaining the bill S731 (N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.16) was passed so that “motorized scooters and e-bikes capable of traveling 20 miles per hour or slower [could] be regulated much the same as ordinary bicycles, allowing their operation on streets, highways, and bicycle paths in this State.”  The press release further states that such bicycles and scooters will not require registration, insurance, or a driver’s license. Importantly, Governor Murphy stated that “[t]he bill further provides that all statutes, rules and regulations that apply to ordinary bicycles will apply to low-speed electric bicycles and motorized scooters.” Id.

The unanimous opinion rejected Mr. Goyco’s reliance on N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.16(g), the 2019 law which states:

g. Except as otherwise provided by this section, all statutes, including the provisions of chapter 4 of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes, rules, and regulations applicable to bicycles, as defined in section 1 of P.L.1991, c. 465 (C.39:4-10.1), shall apply to low-speed electric bicycles and low-speed electric scooters, except those provisions which by their very nature may have no application to low-speed electric bicycles or low-speed electric scooters.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey was not swayed by Mr. Goyco’s arguments that his motorized low -speed scooter was equivalent to a bicycle. Instead, the Court held that by its very definition the electronic scooter is a vehicle propelled by other than muscular power (battery-power) and designed primarily for use on highway. The Court affirmed that, “by their very nature,” a low-speed electronic scooter does not qualify for PIP benefits. Therefore, Mr. Goyco was not a “pedestrian” for PIP benefits afforded to bicyclists as per the definition in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(h).  

Further, the Supreme Court noted that N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.16(g), clearly relates to the operation of the scooter at Section 4, but it is unclear how the new legislation was to relate to Subtitle 2, which pertains to insurance. The Court declined to expand the definition of pedestrian without more explicit language in the statute. “The Legislature may certainly choose to expand the availability of PIP coverage to LSES operators… but that policy decision and its insurance cost implications, if any, is properly for the Legislature, not the Court.” See Goyco v. Progressive Insurance Co., No. A-12-23-088497 (N.J., May 14, 2024), pages 21-22.

The Supreme Court also found that the scooter was “designed primarily for use on highways, rails and tracks,” even though the device used by Mr. Goyco on November 22, 2021, could not go faster than 15.5 miles per hour. The Court noted that “highway” is defined broadly as any main route, free to the public, such as a public road.  

In summation, if a motor vehicle accident involves a motorized scooter being operated in New Jersey, the occupant of that scooter will not be entitled to benefits under the pedestrian PIP provisions for No Fault Insurance as the law stands today. However, there may be further developments in this area of the law, including more explicit language in legislation in the near future.