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NJ Gov. Signs Laws Permitting Auto Accident Victims to Recover Medical Bills

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. is pleased to confirm that New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy has signed a pair of new laws to remedy the challenges of uncompensated medical bills caused by the recent ruling in Haines v. Taft, 237 N.J. 271 (2019) by the New Jersey Supreme Court (“NJSC”).

On Thursday, August 15, 2019, Gov. Murphy signed into law two legislative bills:

  • S2432, which permits recovery of uncompensated medical bills in civil actions for damages arising from automobile accidents; and
  • S3963, which revises New Jersey law concerning the recovery of unreimbursed medical expenses as economic losses for auto accident damages.

As Levinson Axelrod, P.A. Partner Michael Fusco notes:

“This is a huge relief to faultless accident victims around the state. The ruling effectively changed the law without notice and left the injured with potentially no recourse for medical bills which they did not cause.”

Background: A Need to Protect New Jersey Motorists

The NJSC ruled in March of 2019 that in situations where an injured auto accident victim purchased less than the maximum ($250,000) of medical coverage (PIP) on their own automobile insurance policy, they could be responsible for their medical bills in excess of their policy limits -- even if they were not at fault for the accident.

Some trial court judges interpreted this ruling to mean that the at-fault party had zero responsibility for any medical bills, unless the bills were in excess of $250,000. Since many New Jerseyans do not choose to purchase the maximum coverage amount, this meant that a lot of accident victims could potentially be responsible for paying medical bills that they did not cause.

Prior to the Haines ruling by the Supreme Court, if someone purchased $15,000 in medical coverage on their auto insurance policy and incurred bills in excess of their policy limits, many trial court judges would permit a claim to be made for the difference against the party that caused the injuries. This claim would be submitted to a jury and have to be proven, but the judge would permit such a claim to be made. If the jury found the bills to be reasonable, necessary and caused by the accident, they would be allowed to reach a verdict finding that the bills must be paid by the responsible party.

Many New Jersey judges interpreted the Haines ruling, to preclude injured victims from recovering for the with medical bills at trial in excess to the coverage limits. So, if that same individual had medical bills above and beyond their medical coverage limit, they would be financially on the hook for paying the medical bills -- even if the injuries requiring treatment were caused by another person’s carelessness.   

Recognizing the pervading wrongness of such rulings and the potential misinterpretation of the original legislative intent of New Jersey’s no-fault regulations, the state legislature quickly passed a “fix” bill to clarify that accident victims are in fact allowed make claims for such bills against the liable part(ies) in an accident. This returned this question to the hands of juries to determine, instead of taking away the rights of injured victims.

The final language of the laws will be published shortly, which will clarify some outstanding issues as to the effective date of the new law and also how certain medical bills are calculated.

“I applaud the leadership in Trenton who took action quickly to fix a potentially disastrous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court,” said Fusco.

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