Pennsylvania and New Jersey both have laws designed to reduce automobile insurance rates by offering motorists the ability to give up the right to sue for pain and suffering for so-called minor injuries in exchange for lower insurance premiums. However, each state’s law has significant differences which may impact how your attorney evaluates your case.
In New Jersey, the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act specifically defines six categories of injuries which, if incurred, enable the injured person to avoid the “verbal threshold” and collect money damages for pain and suffering: (1) death; (2) dismemberment; (3) significant disfigurement or significant scarring; (4) a displaced fracture; (5) loss of a fetus; and (6) a permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability other than disfigurement or scarring. The first five categories are fairly straightforward. Although what is “significant” scarring or disfigurement may be a matter of contention, whether scarring or disfigurement is present is not.
Defining a permanent injury to qualify under the sixth exception to the verbal threshold requires a doctor’s written certification. Notably, neither the doctor nor the plaintiff must demonstrate that the injury has had a significant impact on the plaintiff’s lifestyle or activities. The doctor need only state his opinion that a permanent injury occurred as a result of the accident. Under New Jersey law, unlike in Pennsylvania, a herniated disc or a nerve injury may overcome the verbal threshold if a doctor certifies that the injury is permanent and related to the automobile accident even though the plaintiff continues to work and participate in activities at his or her pre-accident level with little or no pain. Without a doctor’s certification, however, a plaintiff does not have a case. Persons injured in an automobile accident in New Jersey should discuss this requirement with their attorney. While the plaintiff has sixty days after filing the complaint to file a doctor’s certification, there is no point in wasting money on filing fees if you don’t know your doctor will support a permanent injury. The attorney, doctor and client/patient should all be on the same page before a lawsuit is begun.
In Pennsylvania, there are no specifically defined categories of injuries that automatically overcome the “limited tort threshold.” The law states that the person must have suffered “a serious permanent impairment of a body part or function.” Pennsylvania does not require a doctor’s certification in order to bring a lawsuit. However, the Pennsylvania Courts have interpreted the law to require that the injury be more than permanent, it must also be serious. Inability to participate in casual hobbies, some pain and limited range of motion, and even some loss of time from work do not qualify as “serious.” There must be significant loss of work or impairment of one’s ability to function at work, significant pain and restriction of motion, or significant alterations of daily activity like requiring another’s assistance to do activities one previously performed independently. Sometimes, loss or impairment of a part time hobby or sport may be considered serious if it was income producing or a regular and routine endeavor( not playing golf in a foursome every weekend over the summer). Ultimately, in Pennsylvania, it may be up to a jury to decide whether the plaintiff’s injury is serious enough to overcome the limited tort threshold. For that reason, New Jersey’s law has been more effective in reducing the number of automobile accident cases filed in the courts. Pennsylvania gives injured persons greater access to the courts but a higher hurdle to overcome.
There is one easy, sure-fire (though more expensive) way to avoid having to provide a doctor’s certification or persuading a jury that your injuries are serious and deserving of compensation. Select full tort for your automobile insurance policy.