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New Jersey Car Accident Injuries: Crossing the “Verbal Threshold”
New Jersey’s no-fault auto insurance law contains a special provision called the “verbal threshold” that is intended to limit claims of pain, suffering or inconvenience caused by car accidents.

Accident victims can seek personal injury compensation in New Jersey for a wide range of injuries, from catastrophic harm such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputations and loss of vision, to spinal trauma that cause chronic and debilitating back or neck pain.

The personal injury can arise from a wide range of circumstances, from car, motorcycle and truck accidents to construction accidents, dog bites, slip-and-fall accidents or injuries caused by defective products. However, New Jersey’s no-fault auto insurance laws (as well as laws regarding claims against government actors under the state’s Tort Claims Act) contain special provisions called a “verbal threshold” that are intended to limit noneconomic damages involving a claim of any type of pain, suffering or inconvenience.

Injuries for Which Noneconomic Damages Can Be Sought in New Jersey

The strict language of New Jersey’s verbal threshold law limits eligibility for noneconomic damages that are compensable by insurance coverage to the following types of motor vehicle accident injuries:

  • Bodily injuries that result in death or dismemberment
  • Significant disfigurement or significant scarring
  • Displaced fractures
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Permanent injuries that can be established “within a reasonable degree of medical probability”

This means that a person who suffers an injury that does not meet one of these criteria cannot seek insurance coverage for claims such as emotional distress, loss of consortium or loss of physical abilities (such as swinging a golf club) that do not affect employment.

In order for a car accident injury claim on one of these issues to be recognized by the court, a plaintiff must provide the defendant with a certification from a physician that the person has suffered an injury described above. The certification must be based on clinical evidence such as medical tests, and the statute provides criminal consequences for submitting fraudulent, fictitious, false or misleading statements, or omitting material facts from a certification.

The statute is a result of the passage of the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (AICRA), and one alternative provided to the “basic” tort option under the law is the “no limitation on lawsuit” option. This option, which authorizes noneconomic injury claims for all injuries, is only available if an automobile involved in the accident is covered by a personal injury protection (PIP) or medical expense benefits policy. 

Establishing That a Car or Truck Accident Victim Suffered a Permanent Injury

Many New Jersey car, truck and motorcycle accident victims are faced with the legal challenge of proving that their injuries are permanent in order to receive compensation for all the harm they suffered. Payments for lost income, medical expenses and property damage may fall far short of the harm suffered by a person who can no longer live life as before due to spinal trauma or a whiplash injury.

The importance of working with an experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer in such cases is clear. One crucial strategy is to ensure that a client’s medical condition receives expert medical attention, and all effects of the accident are fully documented. Just as important, a thorough review of the evidence can lead to identification of other potentially liable parties such as defective automobile part manufacturers not subject to verbal threshold limitations.

A car accident lawyer can also make arguments based on the statutory language contained in AICRA, including:

  • The plain meaning of the statute requires compensation for auto crash injuries that do not heal sufficiently to allow a return to normal function
  • The statute permits compensation for soft tissue injuries that cause permanent loss of normal function to an injured body part
  • The intent of New Jersey lawmakers in passing AICRA was to lower insurance costs, but also to guarantee compensation for injuries that do not heal
  • The standard for evidence in permanent injury cases is the same as that already required for all scientific expert opinions in personal injury litigation

People who suffer car accident injuries and suffer a loss of function should be able to recover for all of their losses when a distracted driver, drunk driver or other negligent motorist causes harm. Aggressive and strategic representation from a New Jersey personal injury lawyer is a crucial asset to injured plaintiffs, whether they suffered severe injuries that caused immediate paralysis or experience chronic pain and discomfort that could last a lifetime.

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