In March 2020, a bill passed the New Jersey Senate that may change the way that accident injury claims are handled, and liberate space from an otherwise clogged court system.
The bill, S-2429, paves the way for those who have been injured in an accident that was not their fault to make informed decisions about their medical care. It also allows them to use informed discernment to decide how to proceed with an accident claim or personal injury lawsuit.
Bill S-2429 requires that insurance providers disclose the coverage limits of their client’s auto insurance policies upon documentation-accompanied request by an accident victim’s attorney, in order that those seeking damages for injuries for which the insured client was responsible can make informed decisions about how to move forward with injury claims and medical care. According to the bill, a representative attorney must provide a request for disclosure to the liable party’s insurance provider, and include the police report with all associated information and name and last known address of the insured party. The insurance company then has 30 days to respond in writing disclosing the policy limits of that client’s policy. The bill, having been passed by the Senate, has been sent to the Assembly for consideration.
As the law has stood before, an injured accident victim has had to move forward with filing a claim to seek damages before knowing how much auto insurance coverage the liable party has. This means that in the case that the liable party’s insurance does not have the insurance required to cover the extent of medical expenses and damages that the accident caused, the victim will have to find a way to pay for their care out of pocket.
When is it necessary to litigate, when most personal injury cases are settled out of court?
Litigation is often used as a last resort – when negotiations fail or a settlement cannot be reached. It is also a way to fast track actions when the two-year statute of limitations within which a claim must be made is nearing arrival. But the initiation of a lawsuit has historically been the only way in which the victim learns the extent of the insurance coverage that the liable party has. This creates a logjam in the judicial system in order for a simple, yet essential, piece of information to be obtained by the victim of an accident, sooner rather than later.
And clogging the court system with lawsuits that will likely end in settlement and never require trial does a huge disservice to those cases that truly do need to go to trial in order for justice to be served, given that they are backed up behind personal injury lawsuits filed in order to find relevant information, but without a true trial in their likely sights. In the absence of having this relevant information that only the filing of a lawsuit can provide, a victim seeking damages to cover their medical care, damages that deserve compensation, must make decisions regarding their medical care without having relevant information, essentially acting blindly. What does this mean for their path forward?
A victim who does not have information on the liable party’s insurance limits is faced with numerous potential barriers to full recovery.
The first, as discussed, is that they may seek medical care for which the responsible party may not be able to pay, given their insurance limits. To have to choose whether to undergo a restorative medical procedure based on the available funds is not fair, but it is currently the state of the insurance system. Another potential barrier is that a person who files an accident claim against the liable party’s insurance company, upon learning (later) that the party does not have the coverage to fully compensate damages, would then need to circle back around and file a claim with their own insurance company under their Uninsured Motorist policy. If the injury victim had information on the state of the liable party’s policy coverage before the claim or lawsuit was filed, they would be able to file these two claims jointly, saving themselves time and having the information they need to make informed decisions regarding their medical care at imperative points early on in their injury, when such decisions may need to be made.
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