Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund v. Hamilton

Decision Date08 December 1969
Docket NumberNo. 97,97
Citation256 Md. 56,259 A.2d 303
PartiesUNSATISFIED CLAIM AND JUDGMENT FUND of the State of Maryland v. Mary Virginia HAMILTON, etc., et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

William E. Brannan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on the brief), and Peyton Paul Phillips, Frederick (Frederick J. Bower, Frederick, on the brief), for appellant.

John Wheeler Glenn, Baltimore (Leroy W. Preston and O'Connor & Preston, Baltimore, and Edwin F. Nikirk, Frederick, on the brief), for appellees.

Before HAMMOND, C. J., and BARNES, FINAN, SINGLEY and SMITH, JJ.

HAMMOND, Chief Judge.

We are here confronted with that often frustrating but sometimes gratifying judicial duty of ascertaining the intent of the legislature; frustrating because in Maryland there usually is little prepassage evidence of intent, and gratifying because the usual paucity of objective evidence leaves room for the exercise of judicial perceptiveness and perspicacity in determining intent.

The Maryland Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Law (the Statute), Code (1967 Repl.Vol.), Art. 66 1/2 §§ 150 to 179, provides in §§ 158, 159 and 160 that a qualified person who holds a valid judgment in excess of $100 for damages from injury or death caused by a motorist may be paid his judgment up to the limits set by the Statute on order of the court after a finding that he meets the prerequisites of § 159. Paragraph (c) of that section is the part of the Statute here pertinent. It excludes from the right to payment one who at the time of the accident was operating or riding in an uninsured motor vehicle owned by him and also excludes 'the personal representative' of a person who was so operating or riding in such a motor vehicle.

The appellees, the widow and child of a motorist who was killed while operating an uninsured car owned by him, successfully sued the other motorist and, regarding themselves as qualified persons holding a judgment potentially payable by the Fund, petitioned the court for payment. The Fund resisted their claims on the ground that each was a person representative of the deceased within the meaning of the Statute and therefore excluded from the class entitled to payment. Judge Schnauffer, in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, held that the legislature intended to exclude from payment by the Fund only the executor or administrator of a motorist who was operating or riding in an uninsured vehicle owned by him-which would bar recovery from the Fund on judgments under § 112 of Act. 93 of the Code for pain and suffering of the injured decedent, hospital expenses and funeral expenses-and did not intend to bar payment to those specified under Lord Campbell's Act (Art. 67, §§ 1-6 of the Code) as entitled to the damages they sustain by reason of the death of their breadwinner.

We think that in light of the background and history of the Statute, the limits it puts on those who may benefit from its remedial purposes, and the breadth of the meaning that the term 'personal representatives' can have, that Judge Schnauffer's scanning of the intent of the legislature was myopic.

The Statute was taken from and patterned after the similar law then in force in New Jersey. Mundey v. Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Board, 233 Md. 169, 195 A.2d 720, 2 A.L.R.3d 755; Maddy v. Jones, 230 Md. 172, 186 A.2d 482. We have from time to time looked to the New Jersey decisions for enlightenment as to the meaning and effect of the Statute. Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Board v. Holland, 241 Md. 294, 299, 216 A.2d 525. New Jersey's wrongful death statute, formerly Revised Statutes, N.J. § 2:47, now N.J.S.A. 2A:31, provides that suit is to be brought by an administrator ad prosequendum if the deceased died intestate or by his executor if he died testate, although the recovery, which is the 'pecuniary injuries' suffered, is not part of the estate but goes to the family. Frasier v. Public Service Interstate Transp. Co. (2d Cir.), 244 F.2d 668. The New Jersey Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund law, like the Maryland law, does not permit a person who sustains damage while operating or riding in an uninsured vehicle, caused by a financially irresponsible person, to be paid by the Fund. The New Jersey Supreme Court held in Robson v. Rodriquez, 26 N.J. 517, 141 A.2d 1, 7, that if the legislative intent were read to mean that a person who sustains damage while operating his uninsured car could not recover from the Fund but that if he should die even from causes unrelated to the accident, his personal representative could, the statute would have been construed to mean that an absurd and anomalous result would occur, a construction that courts will avoid if at all reasonably possible. See 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction (3rd Ed.), §§ 4917 and 4919 (and notes on pp. 434-436); Height v. State, 225 Md. 251, 259, 170 A.2d 212. The Court held:

'The act does not reveal any intention to grant the personal representative of a disqualified decedent greater rights then those possessed by the decedent himself. Such an imputation would be inconsistent with the readily discernible intention to exclude persons injured in the course of operation and use of an uninsured vehicle. The statute in its entirety reflects an overall design to place a personal representative on the same footing as the decedent whom he represents.'

The Maryland Statute, in the provision with which the New Jersey Court was concerned in Robson, bars both the operator of an uninsured car and his personal representative. 1

The primary purpose of the Statute in Maryland, as in New Jersey, was to mitigate and ameliorate hardships caused by financially irresponsible and uninsured motorists where the claimants have no other source of compensation. The policy of excluding from the benefit of the Fund the class of persons which largely created the need for the remedial legislation has an easily discernible rational basis. The legislature apparently concluded that if this irresponsible group were excluded from coverage, its members and future potential members might be induced to become insured so that they might qualify for coverage. If this legislative optimism proved sound, the number of uninsured vehicles-the evil that produced the Statute-would be lessened.

Unless the sanction the legislature applied to induce motorists to become insured is deemed applicable not only to the operator and his estate but to those who can recover under Lord Campbell's Act, the same absurd and anomalous result the New Jersey Court avoided will result in Maryland. An owner-operator of an uninsured...

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17 cases
  • James v. Prince George's County
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 3, 1980
    ...unless contrary to sound logic, are persuasive authority for the intended meaning of this phrase, see Unsatisfied C. & J. Fund v. Hamilton, 256 Md. 56, 58-62, 259 A.2d 303, 305-07 (1969); St. Joseph Hospital v. Quinn, 241 Md. 371, 377, 216 A.2d 732, 735-36 (1966), is that the applicable gov......
  • Forbes v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1989
    ...added). This Court has taken the position that §§ 243H and 243-I encompass wrongful death claims. Unsatisfied Claim & Judgment Fund v. Hamilton, 256 Md. 56, 259 A.2d 303 (1969). Consequently, as the uninsured motorist coverage under § 541(c) must be as broad as the coverage under §§ 243H an......
  • Director of Finance of Prince George's County v. Cole
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 2, 1983
    ...4 It hardly needs mentioning that "in Maryland there usually is little prepassage evidence of intent." Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund v. Hamilton, 256 Md. 56, 57, 259 A.2d 303 (1969). However, with this particular bill we are provided with a note contained in the files of the Senate Ju......
  • McMahan v. Greenwood
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • May 29, 2003
    ...that the term is generally considered synonymous with "personal representative." Id.; see also Unsatisfied Claim & Judgment Fund v. Hamilton, 256 Md. 56, 259 A.2d 303, 306 (1969) (noting the term legal representative is "almost always held to be synonymous" with the term personal representa......
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