Is No-Fault Insurance Different in New Jersey Than Other States?

No Fault Insurance Car Accident Lawyer Newark, NJNew Jersey drivers purchase auto insurance to help them cover the costs of accidents, from medical bills to auto repair costs. Making an informed choice about your auto insurance coverage, however, demands attention to certain details. For instance, understanding what no-fault insurance is, how it works, and what items your policy does (and does not) cover can all help you make smarter choices when it comes to buying and using your auto insurance coverage.

While we can’t cover the details of every auto insurance policy in this article, we can provide an overview of the basic elements common to New Jersey no-fault auto insurance policies, and we can explore how those policies differ slightly from policies used in other states.

No-Fault Auto Insurance in New Jersey: Understanding the Basics

In the past, auto accident costs were handled under an at-fault system in New Jersey and other states. In these crashes, bills were paid by whoever was found to be responsible for the accident.

Throughout the years, however, many states have transitioned to a no-fault auto insurance system. Under this system, each driver in an accident files a claim with their own respective auto insurance policies, which pay for medical expenses no matter who was responsible for the accident.

The goal of these policies was twofold, according to HG.org. First, the no-fault system was intended to reduce litigation by providing a way that injured motorists could have their needs met without having to sue one another in court. Second, it was intended to speed up medical care and make it easier for doctors and hospitals to provide, since neither medical providers nor the injured accident victims had to wait for a court case to be decided before medical bills could be paid.

In order for a no-fault system to work efficiently, however, every driver must have auto insurance coverage that he or she can turn to after an accident. Consequently, all no-fault states require drivers to carry minimum auto insurance coverage as a matter of law. The primary form of coverage that addresses medical bills in a no-fault system is called Personal Injury Protection or PIP coverage.

PIP coverage is part of the coverage drivers are required to purchase in no-fault states like New Jersey. PIP coverage pays for medical expenses for the vehicle’s owner, even if that owner is not in the vehicle when an accident occurs. For instance, many policies allow a vehicle owner to file for PIP coverage if the owner is injured by a driver while he or she is walking.

PIP coverage typically covers the relatives of the vehicle’s owner as well, although certain exceptions may apply. For instance, the covered relatives may be required to be related to the vehicle owner by blood or marriage, to reside in the same household as the vehicle owner, or both.

Most no-fault insurance policies, including those in New Jersey, also include two other types of mandated coverage: Bodily Injury (BI) and Property Damage (PD).

Bodily injury liability coverage provides coverage for claims and lawsuits by people who are injured in an accident caused by the vehicle owner, according to the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. Property damage liability coverage provides coverage for damaged property in accidents you cause. It typically covers damage not only to vehicles or their contents in a crash but also to items like fences or mailboxes that may be damaged during the accident.

How New Jersey’s No-Fault Auto Insurance System Differs from the Other States

While the above features of a no-fault auto insurance policy are common among the states that use no-fault, New Jersey’s system is unique in one particular way: It allows drivers to choose whether or not they want an unlimited right to sue, according to the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.

Vehicle owners who choose a “Basic” policy have access to the full limits of the PIP, BI, and PD coverage that they choose under the policy, just as any auto insurance policyholder would have. However, they are also bound by a “limited right to sue.” This right prohibits the driver, family member, or other covered individuals from suing an at-fault driver unless the injured person suffered:

· Loss of a body part,
· Significant disfigurement or scarring,
· A displaced fracture,
· Loss of a fetus,
· Permanent injury, or
· Death.

If any of these factors apply, the injured person may file a lawsuit against the driver to seek compensation for pain and suffering, as well as any other losses not covered by their insurance policy. If none of these factors apply, the injured person may not sue the at-fault driver.

Drivers in New Jersey who do not wish to be bound by the “limited” right to sue may purchase a “standard” policy, which lets drivers decide whether they want a limited or unlimited right to sue.

While the limited right to sue option is typically less expensive, it also makes it more difficult for an injured person to hold an at-fault driver responsible for an accident. The unlimited right to sue option removes some of the hurdles to holding an at-fault driver accountable, but it comes at a higher cost in insurance premiums for most drivers.

Whether you’re shopping for no-fault auto insurance coverage in New Jersey or in a neighboring state, understanding your options and how coverages change from state to state can help you make more informed choices about the policy you buy and how it works to help you and your family in a time of need.

This article was originally posted on The Patch. 

The Laws Surrounding Wearing Motorcycle Helmets in New Jersey

New Jersey Motorcycle Accident AttorneyNot everyone may agree with it but the law is clear: anyone riding a motorcycle must wear a federally approved DOT helmet when doing so in New Jersey. Many people have differing opinions on this law, as the line between what is safe for riders and the government’s infringement upon adult’s decision-making is constantly being walked on.

It is one thing when there is a law in place for children wearing protective gear, as they are not old enough or responsible enough to be able to make a decision such as this on their own. For grown adults, however, this is not as easy of a decision. Some people do not agree with being forced to wear a helmet, especially those who are old enough to remember a time when it was not required to do so. Nonetheless, the law states that whether you are the driver or a passenger everyone riding a motorcycle must be wearing a helmet at all times.

Even if you disagree with the law on the grounds that adults deserve the right to make a decision on what they can and cannot wear on their own without interference from the government, the statistics paint a scary picture that even the most hard-to-convince person must admit are not ideal circumstances. First of all, when riding a motorcycle any accident will almost always be more severe. That is because there is nothing to protect the driver from the road or any other vehicles besides the clothes they have on their back and hopefully a helmet.

This increases the risk of suffering from catastrophic injuries, and other injuries you would most likely not sustain if you had been in a car, such as road rash. From this perspective, making all riders wear a helmet makes sense. Statistically, the numbers are even more alarming, as in a five year period from 2010 to 2015 there were over 13,000 reported accidents involving motorcycles in New Jersey. Even more staggering is that over 90% of the people involved in those accidents admitted to not having proper motorcycle safety training. Some of these accidents could be attributed to driving under the influence but many of them also had to do with unsafe driving speeds as well as distracted driving, all things that may occur when driving a car but become extremely more dangerous when done while riding a motorcycle.

The number of fatalities that occur due to motorcycles vary every year, but the numbers are still too high for anyone’s liking. In 2015 it was reported that approximately 50 people were killed in a motorcycle accident which was thankfully down from 62 who died the previous year. Neither of these compares to back in 2006 when nearly 100 people were killed in motorcycle accidents. It is statistics like these that show the need for motorcycle safety improvement, and while wearing a helmet may not have saved all of the people involved in these incidents, they may have saved some of them while also decreasing the number of serious accidents that were not fatal that also occurred.

The condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE has been highlighted in the news lately because as more studies are being conducted, the more we are learning about just how fragile the brain is and how injuries can affect a person over the long term. CTE is more common in activities and sports where the brain is damaged repeatedly over a long period of time, but the reports prove that any damage to the brain can have significant impacts on a person’s health later in life and sadly, may even be the cause of why one’s life may end prematurely. There are some accidents that a motorcycle helmet may not be able to save you from but if there is a chance that serious injury could be averted and your brain can stay protected, it is a chance that everyone should take whether it is the law or not.

If none of this is enough to convince you that you should wear a helmet when driving a motorcycle then consider this, a person is 29 times more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than someone who is involved in a car accident – and 5 times more likely to be injured. Again, wearing an approved helmet will not reverse those numbers completely, but studies show that doing so can increase your levels of safety significantly, which is even more important than following the law. The fine for not wearing motorcycle helmet is not a terribly large one in New Jersey, as it usually will only be a $25 ticket with no points being issued to you either. Whether or not this fine is enough to ensure that everyone follows the law is up for debate. What is not up for debate, however, is whether the alternative of what could happen if you are involved in an accident while driving a motorcycle is worth not wearing the correct protective gear that is literally the only thing between your head and the asphalt.

The question on whether or not it is right to force all adults to wear motorcycle helmets in New Jersey may be a discussion that continues forever, but as of now the law in place has the matter settled, at least as far as the courts go. Until anything changes in this aspect, no one will be able to legally circumvent the law despite how passionate they may be in thinking it is unjust. Even if someone is willing to pay the fines just so they can have the freedom of riding a motorcycle without a helmet, it is a dangerous decision that statistics show is clearly not the smartest one. None of this means that people who drive a car can be less aware or responsible when they are behind the wheel and out on the road, but if you are going to ride a motorcycle it is very important to be aware of the risks as well as the law. For no matter how careful you believe you are being when you are out there on your motorcycle, you are not the only person out there on the roads and any small mistake by you or any of the other drivers can be the type that you may never recover from.

Evolving Bail System in New Jersey

Bail Hearing Lawyer Moorestown, NJIn the United States, individuals charged with crimes have the right to a fair and speedy trial. Unfortunately, fast and speedy trials are becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish in modern times. For this reason, individuals frequently wait for a month or more to argue their case in court. During this time, some individuals are free to continue living their lives while others are incarcerated until they are found innocent. Bail hearings often determine the fate for those arrested for various crimes. New Jersey is in a unique position of attempting to change the traditional bail system and replace it with a more technical and accurate way of gauging whether an individual should remain in jail until their court date.

Traditional Bail Hearings

When you’ve been arrested for a crime, you are typically taken straight to jail. Within a few days, a judge will preside over your bail hearing to determine an appropriate amount of money required for your release. Those arrested in New Jersey will sometimes be released solely based on a signed promise to return back to court. Judges will release individuals on their own recognizance when they are unlikely to flee, have strong ties to the community or present other factors to the judge that convince them to let you out of jail.

More often, the judge will require individuals to pay a fee to be released. Judges typically utilize bail schedules as a general guideline in determining the bail amount. Bail schedules usually set a bail amount based on the severity of the offense committed. Judges are also free to use their own discretion when assessing an individual’s likelihood of appearing for their future court date. They will typically use factors like your criminal record, reputation within the community, familial and social ties, employment status and financial situation to judge your reliability.

Once bail is posted, you’ll have to pay the court ordered amount to be released from jail or await your court date in jail. Cash bail means that you or a loved one will need to pay the full cash amount of bail in order to be released. A “cash with a 10%” bail amount will only require the payee to post 10 percent of the cash bail, but the payee will be liable for the full cash amount if the individual never attends their court date. Some individuals may consider hiring a bail bondsman to pay their bail fees, but bail bondsmen can cost you more in the long run. If you are able to pay bail, then it’s best to do so upfront.

Concerns with Traditional Bail

While this bail system has been in place for decades, lawmakers and advocacy groups have largely argued that the system creates a bias against those unable to post bail. Senators such as Rand Paul claim that our traditional bail system creates a two-tiered justice system. The wealthy are able to purchase their way to freedom, and the financially unstable are forced to remain in jail until their court date. The New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance published one study in 2013 that indicated over 75 percent of New Jersey’s jail population was awaiting trial at any given moment. Around 40 percent of these imprisoned individuals were jailed simply because they couldn’t afford bail amounts totaling $2,500 or less.

Being imprisoned severely limits an individual’s ability to defend themselves against any charges, and it shifts all power from the individual to the state. Imprisonment prevents individuals from being able to generate income, often limits future employment opportunities and cuts off contact with important social support groups. Research consistently proves that individuals who can’t make bail are more likely to plead guilty.

New Jersey’s New Algorithm Bail System

In an effort to correct the blatantly biased bail system, New Jersey has become the first state to roll out a new algorithm-based bail system statewide. Governor Chris Christie signed the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act in an effort to completely eliminate bail. This algorithmic tool predicts an individual’s likelihood of re-offending or failing to appear at their court date. This tool utilizes millions of statistics from around the nation to make an assessment on each individual. The algorithm is named the Public Safety Assessment. Between January 1 and May 31, New Jersey’s jail population has decreased 19 percent. During this time, only eight individuals were held on bail.

How Does the Algorithm Work?

The Public Safety Assessment tool was designed by the Arnold Foundation. The creators analyzed over 1.5 million pre-trial records to make their risk assessments as gender and race neutral as possible. The algorithm does not consider factors like income, employment or education. The algorithm focuses on specific factors like the individual’s age, pending charges, prior misdemeanors and felony convictions, whether convictions were violent, whether the current offense is violent, prior failures to appear in court and previous incarceration sentences. Using these factors, the algorithm generates a score. This score is meant to help create a baseline for courts, but the judge always has the authority to make the final decision.

Opponents of this newer system argue that the Public Safety Assessment algorithm may be biased. ProPublica investigated one tool, Compas, and discovered a shocking trend. The Compas algorithm helps with sentencing decisions, yet it overwhelmingly rated black individuals as higher risk than their white peers. Additionally, the Public Safety Assessment takes a neutral stand on gun possession because of the country’s overall lenient stance on gun regulations.

While New Jersey’s new algorithm scores are not perfect, a growing number of experts agree that the traditional bail system is in desperate need of reform. Ideally, these scores will help judges make more accurate decisions about an individual’s likelihood of appearing at their court date. Time will show whether the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act creates more of a balance in the way justice is served throughout New Jersey.