By Tracey C. Hinson, Esq.
The answer depends on the severity of the injury claimed. When I meet with clients after an automobile accident the first thing most clients say is, "I have full coverage." Often the client believes that having full coverage means he or she is fully protected and has a right to sue and recover for his or her bodily injuries. In New Jersey that often is not the case. When buying automobile insurance New Jersey consumers have the choice of two coverage thresholds: The "No Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold ("Zero Threshold") and the "Limitation on Lawsuit" ("Verbal Threshold"). Your selection of one of these thresholds determines your ability to sue for "pain and suffering" for injuries you sustain in an auto accident.
Pros and Cons of "Limitation on Lawsuit" v. "No Limitation on Lawsuit Threshold."
At the time you purchase or renew an automobile policy your insurance agent should ask you to elect a threshold. Under the "No Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold ("Zero Threshold") you retain the unlimited right to sue the driver who caused the accident. The benefit of selecting the "No Limitation on Lawsuit" option is that it gives you the unrestricted right to sue for your pain and suffering and recover damages no matter the degree of injuries. The Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act ("AICRA") provides New Jersey drivers with the choice of lower premiums in exchange for a restriction on their right to sue and recover for their personal injuries.
If you elect the "Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold, also known as the "Verbal Threshold," you ordinarily do not have the right to sue unless you can prove that you suffered a permanent injury. Often proof of such an injury is difficult even if you have a long-lasting injury which is painful to you. If you elect the "Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold or fail to elect a threshold you may be barred from bringing a claim for your injuries unless your injuries fall into one of six categories: death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement or significant scarring; displaced fracture; loss of a fetus; or a permanent injury.
An injury is considered permanent when the body part or organ or both have not healed and will not heal to normally function with further medical treatment. A doctor must certify that the injured person has sustained one of the six injuries. In addition, soft tissue injuries such as herniated discs, disc bulges, muscle injuries or sprains and strains will require objective evidence of the injury, usually by testing such as an MRI or CAT scan, or by clinical examination from a treating doctor. If the injured party fails to demonstrate one of the aforementioned six injuries, the claim may be dismissed by the court.
It is no surprise that the majority of New Jersey drivers elect the "Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold. In some cases, consumers are not informed by their insurance agents of their right to elect the "No Limitation on Lawsuit" or "Zero Threshold" option that gives them the unrestricted right to sue and recover for their pain and suffering.
Most drivers choose the less expensive "Limitation on Lawsuit" option for economical reasons. The additional cost of obtaining the "No Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold may be relatively small. Given the difficulties associated with recovering for bodily injuries it is recommended that you choose the "No Limitation on Lawsuit" option for your automobile policy in order to protect yourself and your immediate family. Keep in mind that your immediate family such as a spouse or a child is bound by your coverage selection. Unfortunately, accidents happen. Therefore, it is important to review your automobile policy declaration page to see what type of coverage you have. If you have the "Limitation on Lawsuit" threshold, you should immediately contact your insurance agent and elect "No Limitation on Lawsuit."
Tracey C. Hinson, an Associate, is an experienced civil trial lawyer at Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein & Blader, P.C., in Lawrenceville where she represents clients in complex litigation involving auto accidents, medical malpractice, civil rights violations, unsafe premises, and claims public entities, including the State of New Jersey.