JOSE DELEON v. GE AUTO INSURANCE CO.Annotate this Case
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-5002-02T25002-04T2
GE AUTO INSURANCE CO.,
Submitted March 21, 2006 - Decided April 3, 2006
Before Judges Lefelt and Seltzer.
On appeal from the Superior Court of
New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex
County, Docket No. L-1111-05.
Stevens & Schwab, attorneys for
Appellant (Christopher F. Struben,
on the brief).
John J. Pisano, attorney for
Defendant GE Auto Insurance Co. appeals from Judge Longhi's confirmation of a PIP-medical-payment arbitration award, entered on September 29, 2004, despite the arbitrator issuing the decision eighteen days after the last consensual extension had expired, on September 11, 2004.
According to GE, the American Arbitration Association Rules require that an award shall be rendered no later than forty-five days from the date of the hearing, "unless otherwise agreed by the parties." See N.J. No-Fault Automobile Arbitration Rule 28 (2003). We agree that an award made by the arbitrator after such time will generally be considered null and void, In Re Arbitration Between Trentina Printing, Inc. v. Fitzpatrick & Assocs., Inc., 262 N.J. Super. 45, 54 (App. Div. 1993), reversed on other grounds, 135 N.J. 349 (1994), because the arbitrator loses authority to act after the deadline passes without the parties' further consent.
However, in this case, the parties had both consented to at least one prior extension. On September 21, 2004, the arbitrator asked for a further extension until October 11, 2004 and specifically stated in the letter "please acknowledge your agreement by signing the enclosed copy of this letter and returning same to the undersigned. If there is no agreement then please contact the undersigned as soon as possible." (emphasis added). The extension request was quickly accepted by DeLeon's attorney, but GE simply ignored the letter and failed to respond in any fashion to the arbitrator's request. It was not until after the award was issued, in favor of DeLeon, that GE objected.
We agree with Judge Longhi who said he did not "think that they can sit back and do nothing and lull the parties into a sense that they had a right to do that given the history of this case where . . . [at least one prior] extension had been granted without any problems." The failure to respond to the arbitrator's request in any fashion cannot place the company in the position where it could accept a favorable award or object to an unfavorable award, as it has done here. We will not allow the arbitration rules to be manipulated in this fashion.
April 3, 2006