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December 29th, 2016

Can You Sue with Limited Tort in Pennsylvania or Limitation on Lawsuit in New Jersey? (Part 1)

Limited tort is an incredibly complex area of car insurance law. Time and time again, our car accident lawyers encounter those injured in Pennsylvania car or truck accidents who learn, for the first time, that they chose limited tort coverage on their auto insurance policy. New Jersey residents who have the same type of coverage, limitation on lawsuit or verbal threshold, are often in the same boat. The vast majority of PA and NJ residents have no idea what limited tort (limitation on lawsuit/verbal threshold in New Jersey) is, or how it applies in their case.

In this auto accident law article, we’ll discuss limited tort in Pennsylvania and verbal threshold or limitation on lawsuit in New Jersey and how they apply in some of the most common car accident scenarios.

In a nutshell, limited tort or verbal threshold acts as a restriction on the ability to seek damages in a car accident lawsuit. Only certain injuries or scenarios will allow the insured individual to sue for pain and suffering. The insured individual’s election on their own auto insurance policy limits their ability to sue for full damages. This sounds counter intuitive. Sounds unfair, but this type of limited tort law exists in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In the 80s, the legislatures of both states passed these laws in order to lower the cost of auto insurance for everyone. The end result is that insured individuals have the ability to limit their own legal rights to sue after a car accident.

It’s important to note that having limited tort or verbal threshold is not the end of the road. Each state differs in terms of the injuries allowed or the exceptions recognized by statute. Visit our Pennsylvania and New Jersey Auto Accident Law Library for more info.

Limited Tort (PA Residents Injured in Auto Accidents in PA)

A Pennsylvania resident is driving their car in-state and is injured in an auto accident caused by another Pennsylvania driver. The injured individual is insured under an auto insurance policy that has limited tort coverage. Can the injured individual obtain full compensation for their injuries? The answer most likely depends on whether the injuries are serious enough under Pennsylvania law. In some situations, limited tort won’t apply, like if the other driver is ultimately convicted of a DUI or the injured individual was a pedestrian or riding a bike at the time of the accident.

Injuries are usually deemed serious if they meet the legal definition laid out in Pennsylvania’s limited tort law. A car accident injury is serious if it is “A personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” Most limited tort car accident cases boil down to the simple question of whether the injuries constituted serious impairment of a body function. Broken bones, serious spinal injuries and head injuries often qualify.

More: How to Request a Traffic Accident Police Report in Philadelphia

Limitation on Lawsuit (NJ Residents Injured in Auto Accidents In NJ)

A New Jersey resident is injured in a car accident that occurs in-state and is caused by a NJ driver. The injured individual selected limitation on lawsuit on their auto insurance policy for the lower premiums. What is this individual entitled to recover? The answer depends on the nature and extent of the injuries.

Under New Jersey Statutes Annotated Section 39:6A-8a, limitation on lawsuit prevents an individual from making a claim for pain and suffering (non-economic damages) unless one of the following occur:

  • death;
  • dismemberment;
  • significant disfigurement or significant scarring;
  • displaced fractures;
  • loss of a fetus; or
  • a permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.

Essentially, limitation on lawsuit applies unless the injuries are major or death occurs. In this instance, if the injured individual did not suffer any of the first 5 injuries, the ability to obtain financial recovery for pain and suffering depends on whether there was a permanent injury.

The vast majority of NJ auto accident lawsuits are fought over the last exception, pertaining to permanent injury. NJ law defines permanent injury as follows: “An injury shall be considered permanent when the body part or organ, or both, has not healed to function normally and will not heal to function normally with further medical treatment.” Under NJ law, a treating physician’s certificate of permanency is required in order to establish that the injury meets this threshold definition.

Pennsylvania law tends to be more favorable for limited tort insurance policy holders. PA residents with limited tort only have to show that their injuries were “serious.” New Jersey law, on the other hand, is much more restrictive, and even requires a special certificate from a doctor attesting to a “permanent” injury.

View part two of this article, which discusses what happens when residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are injured in auto accidents that occur out-of-state.

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.