NJ’s Deemer Statute: How it Can Affect a Visiting PA Resident’s Right to Sue

It’s that time of year again.  Temperatures are rising, beach season has finally come, and families and friends are beginning to drive from Pennsylvania to New Jersey for a weekend “down the shore.”  As someone who currently resides in Philadelphia and grew up along the New Jersey coastline, I was surprised to learn how crossing the state line could affect my rights in the event of an automobile accident.  Specifically, I’m referring to New Jersey’s Deemer Statute, N.J.S. 17:28-1.4.

For Pennsylvania drivers travelling to New Jersey, the primary question under the Deemer Statute is whether the policy covering the Pennsylvania driver was written by a company which is authorized to sell automobile insurance in New Jersey (or is legally affiliated with such a company).  If so, a Pennsylvania driver operating his or her vehicle in New Jersey will be “deemed” to have coverage which meets the legal minimum required for a “standard” automobile insurance policy in New Jersey.   Regardless of what policy limits you have selected in your home state, the Deemer statute will require your insurance carrier to provide the minimum Personal Injury Protection (PIP), liability, and uninsured motorist coverage that is required under a New Jersey “standard” insurance policy.

An updated list of which companies are authorized to sell automobile insurance in New Jersey is available here: http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/Vehicle/InsuranceCompanyCodes.htm.

In addition to ensuring “standard” coverage under New Jersey Law, the Deemer Statute will also restrict the ability of an out-of-state driver from bringing a lawsuit seeking damages for an injury arising out of an accident.  New Jersey’s limitation on lawsuit options (otherwise known as the “verbal threshold”) requires that a person prove a qualifying injury has occurred before they can recover money damages for non-economic loss (e.g. pain and suffering). 

While this post will not delve into what those categories of injury are, it is important to understand that New Jersey’s limitation on lawsuit options will apply to a Pennsylvania driver operating in New Jersey if the Pennsylvania insurance carrier is authorized to sell insurance in New Jersey.  The limitation will apply regardless of whether a Pennsylvania driver has opted to avoid the similar “limited tort” option under Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law.  Thus, while a Pennsylvania resident may be paying higher insurance premiums to avoid the restrictions imposed by the “limited tort” option in their home state, a trip to New Jersey may significantly alter their coverage by operation of the Deemer Statute.

If you have legal issues arising out of insurance coverage, our firm has extensive experience regarding those claims.  Feel free to contact us at (609) 561-2426 or mmcpherson@hoaglandlongo.com.