In my day-to-day practice, I generally see two or three new clients per week that have been involved in automobile accidents. Unfortunately, about 90% of these people carry a policy of automobile insurance that does not allow them to sue for personal injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident. The purpose of this blog post is to educate the public with respect to its rights as they relate to iautomobile insurance policies and to inform the public of its options with regard to what type of car insurance they should obtain.
The State of New Jersey is one of many states that have a “no-fault” system of automobile insurance. What is exactly meant by “no-fault” will be discussed in a future blog post. However, it basically means that your own automobile insurance company is obligated to pay for your medical bills arising out of a motor vehicle accident regardless of who was at fault in causing the accident. In many states that have a “no-fault” system, there is generally included a “tort threshold” in either certain policies of car insurance or within the state’s statutes. New Jersey is one such state that contains a “tort threshold” in its statute. Sometimes New Jersey’s “tort threshold” is called the “verbal threshold” or the “limitation on lawsuit” threshold.
What does this “threshold” term mean as it relates to your rights as a citizen? Basically, New Jersey’s motor vehicle insurance statutes set forth that, in order to obtain money damages for personal injury from the driver of another vehicle, you must prove that you have sustained a bodily injury that fits into one of several categories. Generally, in car accident cases which involve neck and back injuries, an injured person must prove that they have sustained a permanent injury to an organ or body part that “has not healed to function normally and will not heal to function normally with further medical treatment” before they will be entitled to money damages.
Insurance companies that defend motor vehicle accident cases use the above statutory language against people that have sustained neck or back injuries in an attempt to convince a judge or jury that any injuries claimed are not related to an accident and, even if such an injury was related to the accident, the back and neck now “function normally.” It is amazing how many juries “buy into” the insurance company’s arguments and refuse to find that a permanent injury has occurred. Once a jury reaches that conclusion, the injured party is not entitled to receive a monetary award. In my experience, juries have refused to award money damages to injured people that have sustained rather significant life-changing injuries.
You may ask what can you do to protect yourself and your family against such a unfair outcome. Fortunately, in the State of New Jersey, the automobile insurance companies are obligated to give you a choice as to whether or not want this “limitation on lawsuit” option to apply to your policy. Of course, it is better if this limitation does not apply to your policy. However, like everything else in our state, you must pay an extra insurance policy premium to have this limitation taken off of your insurance policy. Once you pay the extra premium, the limitation described above will not apply to you or any family members living in your household.
If you do not know whether or not the “limitation on lawsuit” option applies to your present automobile insurance policy, please feel free to contact us so that we may look at your insurance policy declaration page and advise you appropriately. If you do have this limiting option on your car insurance policy, we suggest that you immediately contact your insurance company or insurance agent to have the limitation removed. Generally, the increased premium will be no more than a few dollars per month but will provide you with in unlimited right to sue in the event you are injured in a motor vehicle accident.
Should you have any questions with regard to the above or other questions concerning automobile insurance as it relates to personal injury law, please feel free to contact our office.