In this article, we’ll provide an in-depth look at a number of New Jersey laws that could come into play after an accident or injury -- whether you’re involved in an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
All states have placed legislative limits on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in the civil court system after you’ve suffered some type of harm. There are different deadlines depending on the type of case you’re asking the court to hear. The law that sets this time limit is called a statute of limitations.
In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives an injured person two years from the date of the injury to go to court and file a lawsuit against the person or entity believed to be responsible for the underlying accident.
It’s very important to understand and abide by this law because, if you fail to get your lawsuit filed before the two-year window closes, the New Jersey court system will likely refuse to hear your case at any time in the future, and your right to compensation will be lost, unless some exception applies to effectively extend the deadline.
The New Jersey statute of limitations for personal injury cases can be found at New Jersey Revised Statutes section 2A:14-2.
In some personal cases, the party you’re trying to hold responsible for your injuries may claim that you're actually to blame (at least partially). If you do share some level of liability for the underlying accident, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you can receive from any other at-fault parties.
In shared fault injury cases, New Jersey follows a "modified comparative negligence rule." To put this rule in the simplest of terms, it means that if your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of fault for the accident. But if you’re found to bear more than 50 percent of the legal blame, you can’t collect anything at all from other at-fault parties.
So, let’s say you’re rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your four brake lights wasn’t working at the time of the accident. During a civil trial, the jury decides that you were 15 percent at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 85 percent to blame. Your damages -- injuries, vehicle damage, etc. -- add up to $10,000. How does your share of the fault affect your compensation? Under New Jersey's modified comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $8,500 (or the $10,000 total minus the $1,500 -- 15 percent -- that represents your share of fault for the accident.)
New Jersey courts are obligated to follow this rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial, and don't be surprised if the adjuster raises the issue of New Jersey’s comparative negligence rule during settlement talks related to your insurance claim.
In car accident cases only, New Jersey follows a so-called "choice no-fault" system. While car insurance is required for anyone registering a vehicle for operation in the state, vehicle owners purchasing car insurance usually can choose between a "Basic" and "Standard" policy. The "Basic" policy (and the "limited right to sue" option under "Standard" coverage) is a form of no-fault car insurance, which means any injury claim after a car accident must be made with the injured driver's your own "personal injury protection" (PIP) coverage, regardless of who caused the accident. A PIP claim won't include compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering, but it expedites the payment of most covered out-of-pocket losses.
In New Jersey, an injured person can only step outside the no-fault/PIP system and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver if the crash resulted in:
For more on this issue, see How No-Fault Car Accident Claims Work.
Some states place limits on the kinds of damages that an injured person can receive in a court case.
The only relevant New Jersey law to discuss here is New Jersey Revised Statutes section 2A:15-5.14, which caps punitive damages in injury cases at five times the amount of compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater. But it's likely that this law won't affect your case, since punitive damages are very rarely awarded. Learn more about punitive damages in injury cases.
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In New Jersey however, a specific statute (New Jersey Revised Statutes section 4:19-16) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
“The owner of any dog” [which bites someone] “in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
If your injury occurred due to the negligence of an employee or agency of the New Jersey government (at the state level), you’ll need to follow a different set of rules if you want to get compensation for your losses. You’ll need to file a formal claim with the state government within 90 days of your injury. After that, you’ll have to wait six months to file a lawsuit (assuming the government hasn’t reached out to resolve your claim). And you must file the lawsuit, in any case, within two years of your injury. (You’ll find plenty of background information on these kinds of cases in our Injury Claims Against the Government area.)