SENATE, No. 177

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

PRE-FILED FOR INTRODUCTION IN THE 2010 SESSION

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  NICHOLAS P. SCUTARI

District 22 (Middlesex, Somerset and Union)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Provides that limitation on lawsuit option does not apply in accident caused by drunk driver.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     Introduced Pending Technical Review by Legislative Counsel

  


An Act concerning liability for noneconomic loss under certain policies of automobile insurance under certain circumstances and amending P.L1972, c.70.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.  Section 8 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-8) is amended to read as follows:

     8.  Tort exemption; limitation on the right to noneconomic loss.

     One of the following two tort options shall be elected, in accordance with section 14.1 of P.L.1983, c.362 (C.39:6A-8.1), by any named insured required to maintain personal injury protection coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4):

     a.  Limitation on lawsuit option.  Every owner, registrant, operator or occupant of an automobile to which section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), personal injury protection coverage, section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1), medical expense benefits coverage, or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3) regardless of fault, applies, and every person or organization legally responsible for his acts or omissions, is hereby exempted from tort liability for noneconomic loss to a person who is subject to this subsection and who is either a person who is required to maintain personal injury protection coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), medical expense benefits pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) or benefits pursuant to section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3), or is a person who has a right to receive benefits under section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3), as a result of bodily injury, arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of such automobile in this State, unless that person has sustained a bodily injury which results in 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.  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.  For the purposes of this subsection, "physician" means a physician as defined in section 5 of P.L.1939, c.115 (C.45:9-5.1).

     In order to satisfy the tort option provisions of this subsection, the plaintiff shall, within 60 days following the date of the answer to the complaint by the defendant, provide the defendant with a certification from the licensed treating physician or a board-certified licensed physician to whom the plaintiff was referred by the treating physician.  The certification shall state, under penalty of perjury, that the plaintiff has sustained an injury described above.  The certification shall be based on and refer to objective clinical evidence, which may include medical testing, except that any such testing shall be performed in accordance with medical protocols pursuant to subsection a. of section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4) and the use of valid diagnostic tests administered in accordance with section 12 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-4.7). Such testing may not be experimental in nature or dependent entirely upon subjective patient response.  The court may grant no more than one additional period not to exceed 60 days to file the certification pursuant to this subsection upon a finding of good cause.

     A person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if that person purposefully or knowingly makes, or causes to be made, a false, fictitious, fraudulent, or misleading statement of material fact in, or omits a material fact from, or causes a material fact to be omitted from, any certification filed pursuant to this subsection.  Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection e. of N.J.S.2C:44-1, the court shall deal with a person who has been convicted of a violation of this subsection by imposing a sentence of imprisonment unless, having regard to the character and condition of the person, the court is of the opinion that imprisonment would be a serious injustice which overrides the need to deter such conduct by others.  If the court imposes a noncustodial or probationary sentence, such sentence shall not become final for 10 days in order to permit the appeal of such sentence by the prosecution.  Nothing in this subsection a. shall preclude an indictment and conviction for any other offense defined by the laws of this State.  In addition, any professional license held by the person shall be forfeited according to the procedures established by section 4 of P.L.1997, c.353 (C.2C:51-5); or

     b.  No limitation on lawsuit option.  As an alternative to the basic tort option specified in subsection a. of this section, every owner, registrant, operator, or occupant of an automobile to which section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), personal injury protection coverage, section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1), medical expense benefits coverage, or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3), regardless of fault, applies, and every person or organization legally responsible for his acts or omissions, shall be liable for noneconomic loss to a person who is subject to this subsection and who is either a person who is required to maintain the coverage mandated by P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-1 et seq.) or is a person who has a right to receive benefits under section 4 of that act (C.39:6A-4), as a result of bodily injury, arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of such automobile in this State.

     The tort option provisions of subsection b. of this section shall also apply to the right to recover for noneconomic loss of any person eligible for benefits pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3) but who is not required to maintain personal injury protection coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), medical expense benefits coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) or benefits pursuant to section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3) and is not an immediate family member, as defined in section 14.1 of P.L.1983, c.362 (C.39:6A-8.1), under a standard automobile insurance policy or basic automobile insurance policy.

     The tort option provision of subsection b. of this section shall also apply to the right to recover for noneconomic loss of any person eligible for benefits pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C.39:6A-4), section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3) when bodily injury is sustained in an accident caused by a person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, operating a motor vehicle in violation of R.S.39:4-50, section 2 of P.L.1981, c.512 (C.39:4-50.4a), or a similar statute from any other jurisdiction.

     The tort option provisions of subsection a. of this section shall also apply to any person subject to section 14 of P.L.1985, c.520 (C.39:6A-4.5) and to every named insured and any other person to whom the benefits of the special automobile insurance policy provided in section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C.39:6A-3.3) or the medical expense benefits of the basic automobile insurance policy pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1) apply whether or not the person has elected the optional $10,000 liability coverage insuring against loss resulting from liability imposed by law for bodily injury or death provided for in subsection c. of section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-3.1).

     The tort option provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section as provided in this 1998 amendatory and supplementary act shall apply to automobile insurance policies issued or renewed on or after the effective date of P.L.1998, c.21 (C.39:6A-1.1 et al.) and as otherwise provided by law.

(cf: P.L.2003, c.89, s.52)

 

     2.  This act shall take effect immediately and shall apply to a cause of action that accrues on or after that date.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill provides that a person who has chosen the "verbal threshold," or limitation on lawsuit option, under his private passenger automobile insurance policy could nevertheless sue a tortfeasor for noneconomic damages when bodily injury is sustained in an accident if the tortfeasor is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, drunk driving or refusing to take a breathalyser test in relation to that accident, even if the verbal threshold requirements have not been met with respect to that injury.