New Jersey Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

New Jersey's personal injury statutes of limitations, where your lawsuit should be filed, what happens to your case if you're partly to blame for the accident, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
Updated 5/01/2024

You've been injured in New Jersey by someone else's wrongdoing—maybe in a slip and fall or by a doctor's carelessness, for example—and you have questions. How much time do I have to sue? Can I sue the driver who hit me? What happens if I'm partly to blame for my injuries?

We've got the answers you're after. Here are some examples.

  • Usually, you have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey court.
  • When you're partly to blame for your injuries, New Jersey's "comparative negligence" rule reduces (or might even eliminate) the compensation you can recover.
  • You can file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against another driver, but only if you meet one of the state's no-fault "tort thresholds" or you've opted out of New Jersey's no-fault auto insurance system.

Read on for the details behind these and other New Jersey personal injury rules.

How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in New Jersey?

You'll find the answer to that question in one of New Jersey's personal injury "statutes of limitations," laws that put a deadline on your time to file a case in court. We begin with the state's two-year general rule. Then we'll review some other statutes of limitations that might apply, depending on the nature of your claim.

The General Rule: Two Years From the Date You Were Injured

For most New Jersey personal injury cases, you have two years to file your lawsuit. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-2(a) (2024).) The clock probably starts on the date you were injured. But in some circumstances (see below) the time might be extended, giving you longer to file.

Unless the injuries cause death, New Jersey's two-year general rule covers lawsuits involving:

Other Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations and Filing Deadlines

New Jersey's general rule isn't a "one-size-fits-all" statute of limitations. Here are some other deadlines that might apply.

Defamation of character. Someone makes an untrue statement of fact about you that harms your standing in the community. You might have a claim for defamation. Defamatory statements come in two varieties: libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation). If you decide to sue, you must act quickly. You have just one year, likely starting on the date the defamatory statement was first made, to file your case. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-3 (2024).)

Wrongful death lawsuits. When personal injuries cause death, the victim's surviving relatives might decide to sue for wrongful death damages. A New Jersey wrongful death case must be filed within two years after the date of death. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:31-3 (2024).)

There's an important exception to this two-year deadline. When the death results from murder, aggravated manslaughter, or manslaughter, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed at any time. In other words, there's no filing deadline when death follows from these crimes.

Injury claims against the government. If you think the negligence of a New Jersey government employee (at the state or local level) caused your injury (or property damage), you can bring a claim for compensation under a set of laws called the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. But as a first step, you'll need to file your claim with the right public entity within 90 days, or you'll lose your right to hold the government liable for your losses. Get the details on making an injury claim under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.

Can New Jersey's Statutes of Limitations Deadline Be Extended?

Sometimes, New Jersey law extends the lawsuit filing deadline, giving you more time to sue. Generally speaking, courts are reluctant to carve out exceptions to statutes of limitations. If you think one of these examples might apply in your case, seek advice from experienced New Jersey counsel.

Defendant is absent from New Jersey. Suppose the defendant lives outside of New Jersey when you're injured. Or after you're hurt, the defendant flees from the state to avoid your lawsuit. Will these tactics frustrate your plans to sue? New Jersey law tries to make sure they don't.

When the defendant's absence prevents you from getting "service of process" on them, the period they're out of state doesn't count against your filing deadline. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-22 (2024).) Ask your lawyer to fill you in on the finer points of serving an absent defendant.

Injured person is legally disabled. A person who's legally disabled can't take care of their own legal affairs without help, usually from a parent or legal guardian. For statute of limitations purposes, New Jersey recognizes as legally disabled those who are:

  • younger than 18 years old, or
  • mentally incapacitated to such a degree that they don't understand legal proceedings or they're not able to file a lawsuit on their own.

N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-21 (2024) gives an injured person who's legally disabled more time to file a personal injury case. The statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until their disability ends, meaning:

  • they turn 18, or
  • their mental incapacity resolves so they can handle their own legal matters.

New Jersey's discovery rule. In most cases, the statute of limitations starts running on the date a personal injury happens. Why? Because pain and other symptoms usually let you know right away that something's wrong, putting you on notice that you might have a legal claim.

But what happens when you don't immediately know you've been hurt? What if it takes you months, or even years, to discover an injury? Sound far fetched? Consider this example.

Jane had abdominal surgery on July 15, 2019. After it was done, Jane's doctor reported that the surgery was a success. For almost five years, Jane felt fine. On March 1, 2024, she saw her family doctor complaining of abdominal pain. Jane's doctor ordered an X-ray that revealed the source of her pain: A surgical instrument carelessly left inside her during the surgery years earlier.

If New Jersey's two-year lawsuit deadline started on the date Jane was injured—July 15, 2019—the last date she could sue for medical malpractice would be July 15, 2021. This outcome would be unfair, given that Jane had no idea she'd been injured until almost three years later.

To help minimize this unfairness, New Jersey has adopted the "discovery rule." When you don't know you've been injured, and there's no reasonable way you could have discovered it even if you'd diligently looked, the statute of limitations doesn't run from the date of your injury. Instead, it starts on the earlier of:

  • the date you know you have a potential legal claim, or
  • the date you should have known, exercising reasonable care, that you had a potential legal claim.

(See Lopez v. Swyer, 62 N.J. 267, 273-74 (1973).)

What If I Miss the New Jersey Statute of Limitations Deadline?

Miss the filing deadline and, unless an extension gives you more time, your legal claim is dead. Nothing you do will bring it back to life. You've forever lost the right to collect compensation ("damages") for your injuries. Any lawsuit you try to file will be dismissed. The defendant won't settle with you because as far as New Jersey is concerned, there's nothing to settle. You have no legal claim.

Where Do I File a New Jersey Personal Injury Lawsuit?

New Jersey personal injury cases are filed in the New Jersey Superior Court Law Division. The Law Division is divided into several different "parts." Personal injury lawsuits are filed in one of these three parts, depending on the amount of damages involved:

  • the Civil Part
  • the Special Civil Part, and
  • the Special Civil Part, Small Claims Section.

Damages of Not More Than $5,000

You should file your lawsuit in the Special Civil Part, Small Claims Section, when:

  • your damages aren't more than $5,000, or
  • your damages are more than $5,000, but you're willing to accept no more than $5,000 to resolve your case.

The New Jersey courts have prepared information packets with forms you can use for motor vehicle claims and non-motor vehicle claims.

(Learn more about cases in New Jersey's Small Claims Section.)

Damages of More Than $5,000 But Not More Than $20,000

In the Special Civil Part, you can collect damages of up to $20,000. Here too, New Jersey has an information packet with forms you can use to help prepare your case.

Damages of More Than $20,000

When you want the court to award damages of more than $20,000, your case belongs in the Law Division, Civil Part. You should have a lawyer prepare, file, and handle your case. Why? Because proceedings here are much more formal and complicated.

For example, you'll have to follow the New Jersey Rules of Civil Procedure and the New Jersey Rules of Evidence. At best, these rules are complicated and hard to understand. Chances are you're not familiar with them. But the lawyer representing the defendant will be. You need a trial lawyer on your side who knows the rules and how they apply to your case.

(Learn more about how to file a personal injury lawsuit.)

What If I'm Partly at Fault for My Injury In New Jersey?

To collect damages in most personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff (the party filing the case) must prove that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff an injury. Quite often, the defendant will point the finger back at the plaintiff, saying the plaintiff was negligent too.

This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence." If it succeeds, this defense reduces (or might even eliminate) the damages the plaintiff is allowed to recover. New Jersey has adopted a version of the comparative negligence rule. Here's how it works.

New Jersey's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

In New Jersey, you can collect some personal injury damages even if you were partly to blame for the accident, as long as you weren't more than 50% negligent. Up to that point, your percentage share of the total negligence simply reduces your damages by that amount. But when you're found to be 51% or more negligent, you can't collect any damages. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:15-5.2 (2024).)

How Does New Jersey's Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're rear-ended at a stoplight. Turns out that one of your brake lights wasn't working at the time. During a trial, the jury decides that:

  • you were 10% negligent
  • the other driver was 90% negligent, and
  • your damages add up to $30,000.

How much of your damages are you allowed to collect? Because you were 10% negligent, you can recover 90% of your damages: $30,000 x 90% = $27,000. The other driver's insurance company will write you a check for that amount. Had you been found 51% or more to blame for the wreck, under New Jersey's modified comparative negligence rule you'd get nothing.

New Jersey's "Choice No-Fault" Car Insurance System

New Jersey has enacted a "choice no-fault" auto insurance system. To register your car in New Jersey, you must show proof that you're insured. There are three kinds of insurance that satisfy state law.

"Basic" No-Fault Insurance

A "basic" no-fault policy provides personal injury protection (PIP) to cover your medical bills and lost wages, along with liability insurance to pay for damages you cause to others. To bring an insurance claim or a lawsuit against a negligent driver who injures you, you'll have to meet one of New Jersey's "tort thresholds." (N.J. Stat. § 39:6a-8(a) (2024).)

"Standard" Insurance

This insurance comes in two forms. You can choose a "limited right to sue" option, which is also a form of no-fault coverage subject to the tort thresholds. Or you can select "unlimited right to sue" insurance, which opts you out of the state's no-fault system and into standard fault-based coverage. With this fault-based insurance, you can bring a claim against an at-fault driver any time you choose.

(Learn more about New Jersey's no-fault auto insurance system.)

Strict Liability for Dog Bites in New Jersey

New Jersey makes a dog owner "strictly liable" for their dog's bite injuries when the victim was on public property or lawfully on private property. (N.J. Stat. § 4:19-16 (2024).) This means the victim doesn't have to show:

  • the dog had known dangerous tendencies
  • the dog had a history of biting others, or
  • the owner's negligence caused the dog to bite.

(Learn more about New Jersey's dog bite laws.)

Get Help With Your New Jersey Personal Injury Claim

You might wonder if you can handle your own personal injury claim. The answer is: Maybe so, if the facts of your case are simple and uncontested, there aren't any sticky legal issues involved, and your injuries and damages are minor. Under those circumstances, you might be able to negotiate a fair settlement on your own.

But if the facts are in dispute (they usually are), the case involves difficult legal issues (like the statute of limitations or comparative negligence), or your injuries are moderate, severe, or catastrophic, don't risk going it alone. You'll be up against an experienced insurance adjuster or defense lawyer who looks at you and sees an easy target. To make it a fair fight, you need expert legal help on your side.

When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find a personal injury lawyer near you.

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