After an auto accident, your medical bills are typically paid under the PIP coverage provisions in your automobile insurance policy, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. In addition to PIP benefits, you may be able to pursue a claim against the negligent driver of the automobile that caused the accident. In this regard, your ability to pursue a claim against the negligent driver for non-economic bodily injury damages is largely dependent upon the coverage you obtained when you purchased your insurance policy, namely whether you opted for the limited right to sue or the unlimited right to sue.
Under the limited right to sue, sometimes referred to as the "verbal threshold," you may sue the at-fault driver only if you sustained an injury qualifying under one of the following six categories: 1) Death; 2) Dismemberment (loss of a body part); 3) Loss of a fetus; 4) Significant disfigurement or significant scarring; 5) Displaced fracture (simple fractures do not satisfy the threshold unless they cause a permanent injury after healing); or Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability. All standard auto insurance policies in New Jersey contain the limited right to sue. The unlimited right to sue, on the other hand, allows you to file a lawsuit for non-econmoic damages and bodily injury against a negligent driver without the above injury qualification requirement.
Importantly, both the limited and unlimited right to sue options only apply to the ability to sue for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering and permanency of injury. The ability to sue for economic damages, such as property damage and lost wages, is not subject to these limitations.
Factors that Determine Fault
If you sustain a car accident injury that qualifies under the verbal threshold, or if you lose a family member in an auto accident that was caused by another motorist, you will need to demonstrate the fault, or negligence, of the offending driver in order to sustain a successful claim. The following factors and items are useful in determining who was at fault for the accident:
- The type of collision – If a driver rear-ends you, there is a strong suggestion of negligence, though it is possible that you may have contributed to the accident if you had faulty brake lights or made an improper maneuver. Additionally, when a driver turns across a lane of traffic and hits a car that has the right of way, this may indicate the turning driver's negligence.
- Police report – while the observations and conclusions of an officer contained in a police report are hearsay and don’t exclusively determine fault in a civil suit, the police report is nonetheless useful. It may indicate whether a citation for a traffic offense was issued to the offending driver, describe the position of the vehicles at the time of the accident and contain contact information of witnesses.
- Witnesses – The statements of people who witnessed the accident and passengers in the subject vehicles are valuable items. Witness statements shed light on the mechanics of the accident, the road conditions, the conduct of the parties, the force of the impact and the injuries, among other things.
- Video and photographs – Pictures and video documenting the accident, automobiles, property damage and injuries offer invaluable insight into what happened and may allow experts in various fields to form opinions as to the mechanics of the accident and injuries.
New Jersey law concerning car accidents and the right to sue is complex. To ensure you pursue all legally available avenues and make the strongest claim, it is typically advisable to speak with an experienced New Jersey car accident attorney. Please contact the Reinartz Law Firm to schedule a free consultation and discuss your situation.