Many people who drive in New Jersey actually reside in other nearby states like Pennsylvania. Each state has its own distinct laws and regulations when it comes to auto insurance and legal options after collisions. New Jersey’s accident laws are very different from Pennsylvania’s laws.
So, what happens when a Pennsylvania resident suffers injuries in a car accident while driving in New Jersey?
To simplify the answer: in most cases, the driver will be subject to the restrictions of New Jersey’s auto accident laws – not those of her home state. Cases of this nature can be complicated and necessitate an attorney that is well versed in both PA and NJ laws. To speak to an auto accident lawyer who handles these exact types of claims on a regular basis, call Cordisco & Saile at 215-642-2335.
What happens when a PA driver is in an accident in NJ?
The answer is far from simple because there are several factors that determine how an accident is handled when an out-of-state driver is involved. In New Jersey, a law called the Deemer Statute detailed in N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, specifically applies to out-of-state drivers that suffer injuries in New Jersey car accidents. The statute contains confusing language and concepts, and is notoriously difficult to understand and analyze.
The Deemer Statute says that drivers from Pennsylvania and other states are subject to New Jersey’s verbal threshold laws (akin to Pennsylvania’s limited tort laws) if the Pennsylvania driver’s auto insurance company is also licensed to do business in New Jersey.
In other words, regardless of what your Pennsylvania policy entails, if you suffer injuries in a wreck in New Jersey, you will be subject to New Jersey’s restrictions on lawsuits. You will not be entitled to sue for pain and suffering.
Do I lose my right to sue even if I paid for a full tort policy in PA?
Drivers in Pennsylvania are given the option of choosing a limited tort policy (which is cheaper, but limits your options for restitution if ever you are in an accident), or a full tort policy (slightly more expensive, but allows you to seek full recovery after an accident). Perceptive, well-informed drivers with foresight opt for full tort policies so that if disaster strikes, they can ensure their family’s protection.
Drivers in New Jersey essentially have the same options as those in Pennsylvania, except that New Jersey does not use the terms “limited tort” or “full tort.” Instead, it uses the terms “verbal threshold” and “zero threshold” when describing auto insurance. But for the intents and purposes of this discussion, verbal threshold is roughly the equivalent of limited tort, and zero threshold is the equivalent of full tort.
So, if you are a PA driver and have a full tort policy, it would seem that your benefits of having a full tort/zero threshold would carry over if you were in a crash in NJ. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Because of the Deemer Statute, it makes no difference if you have paid for full tort policy in your home state. If your auto insurance company does business in New Jersey, state laws deem you verbal threshold/limited tort in an accident.
Is this fair? We at Cordisco & Saile LLC do not think so. Regrettably though, our opinion is of little consequence. The New Jersey Legislature, the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Federal Courts all support the Deemer Statute. Of course, if your PA auto insurance company does not do business in NJ, you will not be subject to NJ’s limitation on lawsuit restrictions and you will have the equivalent to full tort options – but these cases are relatively rare.
So what are my recovery options as a PA driver in a NJ car accident?
If you were at fault for your accident, you can turn to your own insurance for recovery, subject to your policy’s coverages and limits. If the other driver was primarily at fault for the accident, you can file a claim with that driver’s insurance company for compensation for your economic damages. You are eligible for New Jersey’s PIP benefits, which includes up to $250,000 for medical coverage and other first party benefits
Because you will be subject to verbal threshold rules, also known as the “limitation on lawsuit” rules, you cannot recover non-economic damages such as emotional harms, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. If you cannot put a dollar sign on the loss, it is not compensable under New Jersey laws.
Is there anything I can do to sidestep the lawsuit limitation?
The only way you can retain your rights to full tort as an out-of-state driver in New Jersey, is to purchase your auto insurance policy through a company that does not do any business in New Jersey.
The search may not be easy; there is not a verifiable list of providers that do not do business in New Jersey. However, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission maintains a list of auto insurance companies that are authorized to do business in New Jersey. Check to see if your provider is on the list. If it is, consider switching to a company that is not. They may be tricky to find, but they are out there. Erie Insurance Company, for example, is one popular Pennsylvania auto insurance company that currently does not do business in New Jersey.
Where can I find an attorney to help me with my accident in NJ?
If you are a Pennsylvania driver and were recently in a car accident in New Jersey, our injury attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC are here to help. We accept cases in both states, so we know the ins and outs of both full tort/zero threshold cases, as well as limited tort/verbal threshold cases. When you call for a consultation, we can review you legal options with you and then help you seek the fullest recovery possible.