The limitation on lawsuit, or verbal threshold, which is part of the New Jersey Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act, is a significant impediment for motorists in New Jersey seeking to obtain compensation for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Simply put, if a person elects the limitation on lawsuit, the person will pay lower auto insurance premiums. Significantly, however, there will be a limitation on the ability of the person to sue for non-economic damages (injuries/pain and suffering) in the event of a car accident.
Proving Non-Economic Damages
Specifically, to recover non-economic, if a person has the limitation on lawsuit, the person must prove the existence of one of the following injuries:
- A bodily injury that results in death;
- 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.
Recent Case Study
In a recent case, Oguntuase v. Estate of Dangerfield, New Jersey’s appellate court addressed the proof necessary to recover non-economic damages when the plaintiff alleges the existence of significant disfigurement or scarring.
The plaintiff alleged she was injured when the vehicle in which she was a passenger was struck by the defendants’ vehicle in an intersection after the defendant driver went through a red light. The plaintiff’s doctor reported that plaintiff sustained a contusion of her right elbow with a one-centimeter scar, as well as a contusion of her left knee with a 2.25-centimeter scar. During her deposition, the plaintiff testified that she no longer wore shorts and that she did not go to the beach because she was self-conscious about the scars. She also claimed she experienced pain in her elbow with certain exercises.
The defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment contending that the plaintiff’s injuries did not overcome the limitation on lawsuit threshold. In opposition to the motion, plaintiff’s counsel provided the court with thirteen photographs of the scars, along with portions of her deposition testimony. In addition to viewing the photographs, the court was able to view plaintiff’s scars during a hearing conducted via Zoom.
Although the judge agreed with plaintiff’s counsel regarding the size of the scars, as well as the fact that there was discoloration of plaintiff’s skin, the judge ruled that the scars were not very noticeable and would only be seen if someone were specifically looking for them. Further, the judge ruled that the scars did not make the plaintiff “unattractive, objectionable, or a subject of pity or scorn,” nor did the scars substantially detract from her appearance or “impair or injure the beauty, symmetry or appearance of the plaintiff so as to render the bearer unsightly, misshapen, or imperfect deforming her in some manner.” As a result, the judge ruled that when looking at the scars from an objective standpoint, plaintiff’s scarring was not significant, and, therefore, she failed to meet the limitation on lawsuit threshold and was not entitled to recover non-economic damages.
Appellate Division Ruling
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the defendants. Significantly, the Appellate Division held that although a plaintiff may subjectively view scars as unattractive, the courts must consider them “on an objective basis” to determine if the scars are sufficiently significant to satisfy the limitation on lawsuit threshold. In that regard, the Appellate Division agreed that objectively, the scars did not make the plaintiff “unattractive, objectionable or the subject of pity or scorn,” nor did they impair or injure the plaintiff’s beauty, symmetry, or appearance. As such, the Appellate Division ruled that plaintiff’s scars were not significant as a matter of law and, therefore, plaintiff did not overcome the limitation on lawsuit threshold and could not recover non-economic damages.
Contact Our Firm to Learn More
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident in New Jersey, please do not hesitate to contact Ostroff Law to discuss the matter as well as your rights and whether the limitation on lawsuit applies to your case.