Auto accidents which result in injuries can be traumatic and life-altering events. In such difficult times, it is crucial for victims of New Jersey automobile accidents to understand their rights and the legal framework that governs their recovery. The Verbal Threshold provision in New Jersey auto insurance law plays a major role in determining the amount of compensation that accident victims can seek.
The Verbal Threshold: A Historical Overview
The Verbal Threshold, also known as the Limitation on Lawsuit option, was introduced in New Jersey in 1988 as part of the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1.1 et seq.). Its primary purpose was to address rising insurance costs and combat frivolous lawsuits. It did this by ensuring accident victims could seek compensation only for severe and permanent injuries. These injuries include pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of enjoyment of life
The Verbal Threshold serves as a filter to determine whether accident victims are eligible to pursue a lawsuit for non-economic damages.
Note: the Verbal Threshold does not limit other types of car accident damage claims, like medical costs, lost wages and property damage.
Types Of New Jersey Auto Insurance Policies And Coverages
In New Jersey, there are three types of automobile insurance policies available:
A No Limitation on Lawsuit Policy is the most expensive in New Jersey. However, as shown by its name, there are no limits on an injured person’s ability to collect damages for pain and suffering from injuries a negligent driver causes.
However, both Verbal Threshold and Basic policies have those limits in place.
Therefore, under the terms of either of those policies and under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8, you may not recover any pain and suffering damages for your New Jersey auto accident injuries unless you prove the injuries satisfy at least one of the following criteria:
If you have a Verbal Threshold policy, there are several ways to prove that your injuries are permanent. Permanent injuries include damage to the spinal cord, severed limbs, severe burns, scars, disfigurement, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and full or partial paralysis.
Proof of injuries can include hospital/treatment records, test results from ultrasounds, MRIs, CAT scans, and X-rays that show your injuries and your prognosis. Your doctor’s records and his or her testimony will be important.
Disadvantages of Selecting the Verbal Threshold: Limited Recovery for Non-Economic Damages
By selecting the Verbal Threshold option, drivers limit their ability to seek compensation for non-economic damages unless they sustain injuries that fall within the statutory exceptions described above. This can restrict the recovery for intangible losses, such as emotional distress, pain, and suffering, which may have a profound impact on a victim’s quality of life. Victims may find it challenging to assign a monetary value to their pain and suffering, leading to potential inequities in their compensation.
The Verbal Threshold introduced the concept of “permanent injury,” which can be challenging to define objectively. The burden falls on the accident victim to show their injury meets this standard. This will almost always require extensive medical documentation and expert testimony.
The subjective nature of this requirement can lead to disputes and the need for legal intervention. This will often prolong the claims process and potentially reduce the ultimate compensation.
By opting for the Verbal Threshold, drivers effectively waive their right to sue for non-economic damages when the injuries do not meet the threshold. This can be disadvantageous for victims who suffer from injuries such as whiplash, soft tissue damage or minor fractures. These types of injuries may fall short of the threshold for a “permanent injury.”
The Verbal Threshold provision may discourage accident victims from pursuing legitimate claims because of the limited recovery options available. Victims who believe their injuries might not meet the threshold may choose not to sue, fearing the potential legal costs and uncertain outcomes. This could cause a reduced willingness to hold negligent parties accountable and an erosion of access to justice for accident victims.
The Verbal Threshold provision in New Jersey auto insurance law reflects an attempt to balance controlling insurance costs and providing fair compensation to accident victims with significant and permanent injuries. While it serves the purpose of reducing frivolous lawsuits, there are inherent disadvantages for drivers who select the Verbal Threshold, including limited recovery for non-economic damages and possibly the subjective determination of what is a “permanent injury.”
Experienced New Jersey Verbal Threshold Attorneys
If an auto, truck, or motorcycle accident has resulted in injuries to you or a loved one, and you have questions on your insurance coverage, contact Schiller, Pittenger & Galvin, P.C. at 908-490-0444 at their Scotch Plains office or online for a free consultation with an experienced New Jersey auto insurance lawyer. There is no attorney’s fee charged to you unless we are successful in obtaining a recovery on your behalf.