Whether you are buying new auto insurance and filling out a Coverage Selection Form or have received one in the mail at the time of insurance coverage renewal, take the time to read the Coverage Form and supporting documentation closely. New Jersey automobile insurance policies provide three separate and distinct benefits: Liability Coverage, Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage, and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage. NJ policies also limit your right to bring a claim for your injuries if you have the The Verbal or Lawsuit Threshold. It is important to understand your benefits as well as the limitations on your policy.
Probably the most confusing and misleading part of a NJ Automobile Policy is the verbal or lawsuit threshold. If you choose the verbal or lawsuit threshold, and most people do since it is significantly less expensive then the zero or no tort threshold, then you automatically limit your right to bring a claim for pain and suffering unless you have a “serious” injury. The law defines serious injury as follows: death, dismemberment, significant disfigurement or significant scarring, a displaced fracture, loss of a fetus, or permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability other than scarring or disfigurement. (Any injury shall be considered permanent when the body part, organ or both has not healed to function normally and will not heal to function normally with further medical treatment.)
The first five categories are rather straightforward. Significant disfigurement generally pertains to scarring which must be visible in order to be significant. For example, a large laceration in the scalp may not be considered significant disfigurement if a person’s hair grows over the laceration and covers it. With regard to a displaced fracture, it is not enough for the bone to be broken. A non-displaced fracture will not fall into category four, but may be considered a permanent injury pursuant to category six. In order to bring a claim for pain and suffering against the driver of another private passenger automobile, you must obtain from your treating physician a certification whereby the doctor certifies that you have one of the six serious injuries listed above.
Most litigation involving the verbal or lawsuit threshold involves category six. The law requires a treating doctor to prepare and sign a certification describing the objective diagnostic or clinical evidence of the permanent injury suffered in the accident as a precondition to making a personal injury claim for pain and suffering.
A claim for pain and suffering cannot be based solely on subjective complaints of pain. This is a troubling requirement since an injured person may truly experience, express and suffer pain as a result of the accident, even while it may difficult for a treating doctor to pin down objective evidence of the soft tissue injury.
A personal injury attorney can help make sure your doctors and your insurance company are not ignoring your accident related medical needs; determine the existence of any thresholds to recovery and if they have been overcome; to closely evaluate all issues surrounding fault, the monetary and non-monetary damages and harm caused by the accident; to determine the likelihood of a recovery – to let you know whether your claim has merit and, if so, then to vigorously protect you and your rights.
For more detailed information or to speak with an attorney regarding your specific issue, call an experienced NJ Personal Injury attorney in Northfield (609-677-1700), Cape May area (609-729-1187), or Cherry Hill (856-673-4181).