If you've been injured and/or incurred significant vehicle damage in any kind of traffic accident in New Jersey, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few New Jersey laws that could have a big impact on your case.
(Important note on no-fault: New Jersey is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following two sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on New Jersey's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)
A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. If you miss the time limit set by this law and you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the deadline has already passed, the New Jersey court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.
In most situations, you have two years, starting from the date of the crash, to get your car accident case started in the New Jersey court system. For the details, learn more about the car accident statute of limitations in New Jersey.
If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?
New Jersey follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when more than one party is found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.
For instance, suppose that the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under New Jersey’s comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but well short of the total dollar amount of your damages.
One important note: Since New Jersey is a "modified" comparative fault state, you will receive nothing at all if you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the crash. This is different from the rule in "pure" comparative fault states, where you can recover damages when you're more at fault than the other party. Bottom line: In New Jersey, you must be no more than 50 percent at fault in order to recover damages from any other at-fault party after a car accident.
Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind New Jersey judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.
New Jersey's comparative negligence rule can be found at New Jersey Statutes section 2A:15-5.2.
Learn more about the New Jersey Auto Comparative Negligence Settlement rules (from the New Jersey Department of Banking & Insurance).
If you're a driver involved in a car accident in New Jersey, and the crash resulted in injury or death, and/or vehicle damage or damage to any other property in an apparent amount of at least $500, you must report the accident to the local police department, the nearest office of the county police, or the New Jersey State Police by the "quickest means of communication." New Jersey statutes don't specify what that phrase means, but logically we can assume that the driver must report the accident immediately afterward, by cell phone.
Next, the driver must usually file a written accident report within 10 days after the accident, on an official "Self-Reporting Crash" form available from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
These rules can be found at New Jersey Statutes section 39:4-130.
As touched on above, New Jersey is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on the New Jersey no-fault car insurance rules.