A serious auto accident can have long-term effects on your finances and quality of life. Unfortunately, a lawsuit is sometimes needed to obtain sufficient financial compensation. The right to sue after being injured in a car wreck can be complicated by a New Jersey law referred to as the “verbal threshold.”
The verbal threshold is also known as the “limitation on lawsuit option” and refers to an option selected in the injured party's auto insurance policy. Choosing this option results in a much cheaper insurance premium but limits the person's ability to sue for certain types of injuries. This limitation applies regardless of who was at fault in the accident.
Figuring out your options for financial recovery isn't easy, especially when you're still healing from an accident. If you or a loved one is injured in an auto accident, an experienced personal injury lawyer could help you understand your rights. The lawyers at Villani & DeLuca have extensive experience and knowledge of NJ auto accident laws, and they can discuss your options to sue for recovery after an accident.
Automobile Insurance Options in New Jersey
The cost of private (non-commercial) automobile insurance in New Jersey has historically been quite high. In an attempt to reduce premium costs while still giving adequate compensation to drivers, the NJ legislature passed the “limitation on lawsuit option” law.
New Jersey Legislative Statutes §39:6(a) gives drivers the option to purchase one of two types of car insurance policies. A limitation on lawsuit (or verbal threshold) policy is almost always cheaper but restricts a driver's ability to sue for pain and suffering. A no limitation policy doesn't place restrictions on a driver's ability to sue, but these policies tend to be rather expensive.
No Limitation Lawsuit Option for Personal Auto Insurance
A person may elect to purchase auto insurance with a “no limitation lawsuit” option (also referred to as a “no verbal threshold” policy) under N.J.S.A. §39:6A-8(b). These policies are beneficial because the insured may sue for compensation for pain and suffering.
The disadvantage of this policy option is the higher auto insurance premium cost. However, the experienced lawyers at Villani & DeLuca recommend obtaining a no verbal threshold policy. These policies make it far easier to recover money for damages from pain and suffering in the event of an auto accident.
Understanding the Limitation on Lawsuit Option
If a driver has elected a limitation on lawsuit option on their auto insurance policy, they are prohibited from suing for certain types of personal injuries. This law applies even if they weren't the at-fault party in the accident. Verbal threshold limitations apply to any driver listed in the automobile insurance policy, including resident family members such as children without their own coverage.
Under N.J.S.A. §39:6A(a), a person with this type of policy can't sue for noneconomic damages unless they've suffered one or more of the following six personal injuries:
- Dismemberment (loss of a body part)
- Significant disfigurement or scarring
- Displaced fractures
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent injury other than scarring or disfigurement
Noneconomic damages are also known as compensation for pain and suffering. This term refers to money won in a lawsuit for things such as pain, loss of normal life, and emotional distress.
Suing for Pain and Suffering Under a Verbal Threshold Policy
A person who has suffered one of the six types of injuries listed above may sue for pain and suffering even if they have a “limitation on lawsuit option” insurance policy. However, pursuing any lawsuit may be challenging under these verbal threshold policies, so guidance from a competent NJ personal injury attorney is vital.
A physician must certify under penalty of perjury that the person suffered one of the six listed injuries. The certification must refer to objective clinical evidence, which may include the use of valid diagnostic tests such as an MRI, EKG, or X-ray. The testing may not be experimental or rely only on subjective patient responses pursuant to N.J.S.A. §39:6A(a).
Although winning a lawsuit for pain and suffering under a verbal threshold policy isn't easy, a skilled NJ personal injury attorney may be able to help. If a car accident has caused severe or permanent injury, you should speak with a lawyer right away. Successful pursuit of these cases requires consultation with the right medical experts and meeting statutory time limits. A personal injury lawyer may be able to take action to protect your rights and help you recover.
Risks of Having a Limited Lawsuit Option on Your Car Insurance Policy
Most car insurance policyholders in New Jersey have the verbal threshold option due to the substantial savings on the cost of premiums. However, an insured driver is taking a risk by purchasing such a policy because they may not be able to sue for pain and suffering after an automobile accident.
Injuries like the death of a loved one or loss of a limb may not be difficult to prove. However, proving you have sustained a permanent injury other than scarring or disfigurement can be challenging. NJ law considers an injury to be permanent if the body part or organ won't heal to function normally even with further medical treatment.
A person isn't likely to win compensation for soft tissue injuries, such as sprains and muscle spasms since it's nearly impossible to prove that these injuries are permanent. An injured party may even have difficulty showing that serious problems such as a herniated disc or head injury are permanent. If an injury isn't one of the first five types listed, and a person can't prove that the injury is permanent, no recovery for pain and suffering will be permitted.
If you're experiencing pain and suffering from an auto accident, speak with an NJ lawyer about your rights. A skilled attorney may be able to show that your injury is permanent through testimony from medical experts. Even if you're not sure your injury is permanent, legal counsel could speak with you about what to do if you don't get better.
Cases Where the Verbal Threshold Limitation Does Not Apply
“Limited lawsuit option” limitations don't apply in some situations. These include:
- Worker's compensation cases
- Auto accident lawsuits pursuing compensation for lost wages, uninsured property damage, or medical expenses
- Commercial insurance policies
- Cases in which the injured party's insurance policy wasn't written in New Jersey
Of course, limitations also don't apply to cases where the injured party elected to purchase a “no verbal threshold” policy.
Contact the Lawyers at Villani & DeLuca about NJ Auto Accident Injuries
The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca are highly experienced with personal injury matters and knowledgeable about NJ car accident laws. They work diligently so injured parties can win the compensation they deserve. Even if you're covered by an insurance policy with a limitation on lawsuit option, a skilled auto accident lawyer could help you seek compensation for serious injuries.
In a personal injury case related to a car accident, you don't pay legal fees unless the attorneys at Villani & DeLuca recover for you. Call today at (732) 709-7757 to speak with an attorney or contact the firm online. You can arrange a free consultation with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to discuss your auto accident and your right to sue.
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