This article explores key New Jersey laws related to traffic accidents and settlements, starting with New Jersey's no-fault car insurance rules. For injury claims that are exempt from New Jersey no-fault rules, we'll discuss how much time an injured person has to file a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey, and how the atate's shared fault rules might affect a car accident case.
New Jersey is one of a dozen or so states that follows a no-fault car insurance system when it comes to injury claims stemming from car accident. That means, if you are injured in a car accident, you are required to turn first (and maybe exclusively) to your own car insurance coverage in order to get compensation for medical expenses and other losses caused by the accident. It doesn't matter who was at fault for the crash (that's why they call it "no-fault").
One wrinkle in New Jersey is that, when purchasing a car insurance policy, drivers have the option of choosing between no-fault and traditional car insurance coverage. Traditional coverage leaves all options on the table after a car accident. You can file a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance carrier, or pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
Even for those who choose no-fault, there is an exception that allows an injured person to step outside the no-fault system and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. The exception is known as the "serious injury" threshold -- when a car accident injury claim in New Jersey involves dismemberment, significant disfigurement or significant scarring (or some other permanent injury), displaced fractures, or loss of a fetus.
Learn more about No-Fault Car Insurance Claims.
If you choose traditional car insurance coverage, or if your no-fault claim qualifies as one that can be brought outside New Jersey's no-fault car insurance system, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
The "statute of limitations" sets how long an injured person can wait in New Jersey before filing a lawsuit. People injured in car accidents in New Jersey have two years from the date of the accident to file their claim. (Title 2A, Ch. 14, Sec. 2A:14-2, 14-3.) For instance, if a New Jersey driver is injured in a crash on December 1, 2011, he or she must file a lawsuit on or before December 1, 2013. A driver who waits too long to file a lawsuit he may be prevented from going to court and seeking compensation for damages stemming from the accident.
In most states, the amount of money you can recover from an at-fault driver in court is affected by whether or not you were also partially at fault for the accident. New Jersey uses a "modified comparative fault" rule in these cases, which works like this: Suppose that you and one other driver are involved in a crash. You file a lawsuit in court seeking money damages from the other driver. After hearing all the evidence, the jury decides that the total amount of damages in your case is $100,000. The jury also decides that the other driver is 80 percent at fault for the crash, and you are 20 percent at fault.
Under New Jersey's modified comparative fault rule, you will receive $80,000 in damages. This number is the result of the total damages award ($100,000) minus the 20 percent ($20,000) that represents your share of fault for the accident. As long as your fault is no higher than 50 percent, you will receive the total damages minus the percentage of your fault.
Since New Jersey is a "modified" comparative fault state, however, you will receive nothing at all if you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the crash. This is different from the rule in "pure" comparative fault states, where you'd receive the damages minus your fault no matter how much of the fault was yours. Bottom line: In New Jersey, you must be no more than 50 percent at fault in order to recover damages after a car accident.
In addition to the "choice no fault" rules discussed above, New Jersey's car insurance laws require drivers to have certain minimum types or amounts of insurance. These requirements affect settlements in car accident cases, and so do the actual coverages in your own insurance policy. For more information about New Jersey's car insurance requirements, including more information about New Jersey's no-fault rules, see our companion article, Car Insurance Laws in New Jersey.