In a 3-2 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently barred accident victims from recovering their medical expenses from the negligent driver causing the injury. In this case, the victim had chosen a reduced personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of $15,000 but his medical expenses far exceeded that coverage. He therefore filed suit against the negligent driver to recover the excess unpaid medical expenses.
The Supreme Court stated that by amending the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (AICRA) to permit the reduced $15,000 coverage, the Legislature intended to prevent accident victims from recovering the excess medical expenses. It claimed that the Legislature intended to do away with fault based lawsuits. This is ludicrous considering that anyone has the right to sue a responsible driver for their injuries, and that lawsuit is based on the fault of the other driver. While it is understandable that an accident victim would be limited to $15,000 in coverage against his own insurance company, it does not follow that he should be similarly limited against the other driver’s insurance company. Otherwise, bad drivers are getting off the hook for their negligence, and the accident victim is left with the option of filing bankruptcy. This is a truly unjust result.
New Jersey car insurance costs are among the highest in the nation. It is good that the Legislature adopted a scheme to permit lower income residents to purchase the $15,000 PIP coverage. However, it is a blatant form of economic discrimination to prevent those individuals from recovering their unpaid medical expenses from the responsible party.
To the extent that AICRA needs to be clarified, we urge the Legislature to do so with all speed.