Operator of Low-Speed Electric Scooter is Not a “Pedestrian” Entitled to Personal Injury Protection Under the No-Fault Act

Goyco v. Progressive Ins. Co., ___ N.J. ___ (2024). Plaintiff was hit by a car while he was operating a low-speed electric scooter (“LSES”), a Segway Ninebot KickScooter Max. As Justice Solomon described it in his unanimous opinion for the Supreme Court today, “[t]he ‘Segway Ninebot KickScooter Max’ is an LSES that has two wheels connected by a floorboard, as well as handlebars, a headlight, brake light, and speedometer. Pursuant to its owner’s manual, the LSES is designed to be operated using its rechargeable battery, which powers its electric motor.”

Plaintiff had a personal insurance policy with defendant. He filed a claim for personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefits under the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 et seq. (“the No-Fault Act”). Plaintiff contended that he was injured as a “pedestrian,” for whom the No-Fault Act requires PIP coverage. That statute defines “pedestrian” as “any person who is not occupying, entering into, or alighting from a vehicle propelled by other than muscular power and designed primarily for use on highways, rails and tracks.”

Defendant denied the claim, asserting that plaintiff did not meet the definition of “pedestrian” because he had been driving his LSES. Plaintiff sued. Both the Law Division and the Appellate Division ruled against him. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed, as modified, employing de novo review to the issue of statutory interpretation presented.

Justice Solomon focused on the statutory definition of “pedestrian.” “‘[F]or the purposes of [the No-Fault Act],’” a “pedestrian” is defined as ‘any person who is not occupying, entering into, or alighting from a vehicle propelled by other than muscular power and designed primarily for use on highways, rails and tracks.’ N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(h). Here, it is undisputed that plaintiff was ‘occupying’ his LSES at the time of the accident. To determine whether he was nonetheless a ‘pedestrian’ within the meaning of the statute, we must therefore determine (1) whether the LSES is a vehicle; (2) whether it is ‘propelled by other than muscular power’; and (3) whether it is ‘designed primarily for use on highways, rails and tracks.’”

The No-Fault Act does not define “vehicle.” Plaintiff suggested that the Court should adopt the definition of “vehicle” contained in a different statute, N.J.S.A. 39:1-1. But hat provision said that its definitions were only “as used in this subtitle.” Thus, the definition of “vehicle” found there could not be imported into the No-Fault Act. Moreover, N.J.S.A. 1:1-1 requires that words in a statute “shall, unless inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature or unless another or different meaning is expressly indicated, be given their generally accepted meaning, according to the approved usage of the language,” which Justice Solomon noted “correspond[s] with traditional principles of statutory interpretation.” Applying various dictionary definitions, the Court held that the LSES was a “vehicle.”

Justice Solomon next ruled that the LSES “was ‘propelled by other than muscular power’ because it used an electric motor with a rechargeable battery. Critically, Goyco’s LSES was not designed to be propelled by muscular power.”

Finally, the Court determined that the LSES was ““designed primarily for use on highways, rails and tracks.” Again citing N.J.S.A. 1:1-1, Justice Solomon observed that dictionary definitions of “highway” are broad. He also cited an Appellate Division case that had held that a child’s motorbike was designed primarily for use on highways, and noted that the LSES had features such as a headlight, brake light, and speedometer that bespoke highway use. Finally, the owner’s manual for the LSES “provides that LSES operators must ‘[c]omply with local laws and regulations when riding th[e] product.’” Accordingly, plaintiff lost.