Car Accident Medical Bills Lawsuits in New Jersey
Compensation for medical costs resulting from car accident injuries can now be recovered in lawsuits in New Jersey, regardless of the injured person’s auto insurance policy limits. NJ Senate Bill S-2432 and Bill S-3963 remedy the New Jersey Supreme Court’s previous decision in Haines v. Taft, in which an injured plaintiff was denied economic recovery for medical bills that exceeded his Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage limits. Now, every person insured in the state has the right to financial recovery for all economic losses, including medical expenses, notwithstanding their car insurance policy limits. In this article, we will review PIP insurance coverage and the current state of NJ law regarding reimbursement of economic losses above insurance policy limits. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident and you suspect another party may be responsible, you should speak with an experienced New Jersey car accident attorney about your potential eligibility for compensation. Contact our highly skilled injury lawyers at (732)-825-6120 for a free case evaluation and specific answers related to your case.
What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage in NJ?
Every person who intends to drive a vehicle in New Jersey is required to have auto insurance. This required insurance not only covers damage to the motor vehicles(s) involved a collision, but it also covers medical bills for related injuries. PIP (personal injury protection) coverage is a portion of car insurance that covers medical expenses associated with injuries from an auto accident. The benefits provided by PIP coverage are subject to no fault rules, meaning that the individuals covered under the policy will have their medical costs covered, regardless of who is at fault for causing an automobile accident. Notably, personal injury protection coverage does have limits. In New Jersey, PIP coverage ranges from $15,000 to $250,000, depending on what coverage an insured driver has elected for. Typical personal injury protection coverage includes reasonable and necessary medical expenses up to $250,000. However, drivers can choose to limit their PIP coverage to $15,000, $50,000, $75,000 or $150,000 in exchange for lower policy premiums.
Can I Sue for Medical Expenses from an Auto Accident in NJ?
For many years, anyone who sustained economic losses, including medical costs, could recover those financial losses in a lawsuit. However, in March of 2019, in a case known as Haines v. Taft, the New Jersey Supreme Court turned this well-established principle on its head and barred recovery for medical expenses that exceeded the individual’s PIP policy limits. Recently, state legislators sought to reverse the Haines decision, providing car accident injury victims with the opportunity to recover damages for medical bills beyond the PIP coverage limits of their insurance policy.
Prior Limits on Recovering Medical Costs for NJ Car Accident Injuries
In the case of Joshua Haines v. Jacob W. Taft, the plaintiff was injured in an accident and sued to recover for the amount he owed to medical providers that were not covered under the PIP provision of his policy. The law applicable at the time of the case stated that “economic losses” were recoverable in a lawsuit. At issue in Haines was whether medical bills that surpass the PIP policy limits could be considered “economic losses,” entitling the plaintiff to financial recovery. Ultimately, the court found that if a person opted to obtain lower coverage, such as $15,000 for PIP, then he or she would not be entitled to seek damages above that amount for medical bills sustained in connection with an auto accident.
The ruling caused upset in personal injury cases, as it did away with the long-standing tradition of covering these expenses. The court reasoned that the language of the law in place at the time did not permit compensation for medical costs beyond the PIP limits. In its opinion, the court noted that it would continue to make rulings in this manner until the legislature revised this law to make the language more clear as to what is considered an “economic loss.” The problem with the opinion was that it unfairly punished people who chose lower policy limits due to their inability to pay higher premiums, as lower limits on PIP coverage would make their policy more affordable.
New Rules on Compensation in Automobile Accident Lawsuits in NJ
Recently, the New Jersey Legislature enacted two bills that allow for medical expenses to be recouped beyond personal injury protection coverage limits. The new legislation was enacted in response to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Taft v. Haines with the intention of allowing medical bills beyond the policy limits to be recoverable economic losses. First, New Jersey enacted Senate Bill S-2432, which permits recovery for uncompensated medical expenses in civil action for damages arising from automobile accidents. Specifically, Bill S-2432 states:
“Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the right of recovery, against the tortfeasor, of uncompensated economic loss as defined by subsection k. of section 2 of P.L. 1972, c. 70 (C. 39:6A-2), including all uncompensated medical expenses not covered by the personal injury protection limits applicable to the injured party and sustained by the injured party.”
Second, and as a companion to S2432, the legislature passed S-3963 to make it clear that all economic losses can be recovered regardless of the PIP limits or health insurance. There were some concerns that the first piece of legislation under S-2432 would limit recovery for those that do not have health insurance in addition to auto insurance. These bills are in effect and applicable to causes of action pending as of August 15, 2019.
Governor Murphy addressed the legislation stating, “I applaud the sponsors of this bill for acting quickly to clarify the state’s laws with regard to the recovery of unreimbursed medical expenses.” The bills “will ensure that low-income drivers, who must settle for lesser PIP coverage options because they cannot afford better coverage, will not be denied the ability to recover their unreimbursed medical expenses from those who caused their injuries.” Likewise, Senator Scutari noted that the new bill allows for recovery of uncompensated losses that exceed the PIP coverage or are unpaid, regardless of insurance.
Discuss Your Potential Compensation with an Auto Accident Lawyer in New Jersey
Now, the law will no longer prevent innocent victims from full financial recovery, regardless of their PIP coverage limits. If you have been injured in a car accident caused by someone else, contact our team of seasoned New Jersey automobile accident attorneys today to learn how we can help obtaining a financial recovery for your losses. Please call (732)-825-6120 or send us a message online for immediate assistance. We are always available to provide you with a free case evaluation.
For additional information regarding this issue, access the following article: New Change to PIP Policies Seen as Encouraging More Policyholders to Head to Court