Cross-motions for summary judgment in this action bring for review one more question arising out of the Automobile Reparation Reform Act (No Fault Law), N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 et seq. The issue is a novel one and it calls for an interpretation of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1(a); therefore this opinion supplementing the oral determination made from the bench. Plaintiff-claimant moves for partial summary judgment against defendant-carrier and the latter moves for dismissal. The facts are not in issue and thus summary judgment is appropriate. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield , 17 N.J. 67 (1954).
Plaintiffs are father and daughter; the former is the owner and insured of a certain automobile and the latter is a member of her father's household and the driver of the car involved in an accident on September 21, 1975. Defendant is the insurer of the car.
Joyce Andrito was injured in the accident and treated by a dentist the next day, September 22, 1975. At that time some of her teeth were capped and temporary crowns were put in. Allstate paid for this dental work on December 11, 1975. Thereafter, on February 12, 1976, Joyce Andrito returned to the same dentist who removed her temporary crowns and replaced them with permanent ones.
This action against defendant for the February 12, 1976 dental work was commenced on February 9, 1978. Defendant's motion is based solely on the failure of plaintiffs to sue for this claim within two years of December 11, 1975, the date the defendant paid the bill for the initial dental work. Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment seeks an adjudication that their suit is not barred by that fact.
N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1(a) reads:
a. Every action for the payment of benefits set forth in sections 4 and 10 of this act, except an action by a decedent's estate, shall be commenced not later than 2 years after the injured person or survivor suffers a loss or incurs an expense and either knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know that the loss or expense was caused by the accident, or not later than 4 years after the accident whichever is earlier, provided, however, that if benefits have been paid before then an action for further benefits may be commenced not later than 2 years after the last payment of benefits.
The defendant contends that the final portion of that subsection, "provided, however, * * *," requires that a suit claiming additional benefits be brought within two years of the last payment of a claim, whether within four years of the accident or not. Plaintiffs view that last portion as not applying to a claim that otherwise complies with the preceding portion of the statute. They contend, rather, that the proviso is simply an added recourse afforded a claimant to cover the situation of continuing treatment claims that go beyond the four-year limitation.
As stated, the issue has not been litigated in New Jersey. This is probably because it is rare that a claim for additional benefits, which is reduced to suit within four years of the accident, will not also be brought within two years of a previous benefit payment. It was also suggested at oral argument that carriers usually pay such claims despite a gap of over two years between a first payment and a claim for another, provided the second is within four years of the
accident. Defendant nevertheless insists that the statute clearly calls for a dismissal of plaintiffs' suit.
In interpreting a statute primary regard must be given to the purpose for which the legislation was enacted. N.J. Builders, Owners & Managers Ass'n v. Blair , 60 N.J. 330, 338-39 (1972); Alexander v. N.J. Power & Light Co. , 21 N.J. 373, ...