On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Lynch, Crane and Horn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Horn, J.A.D.
Defendant Leatherby Insurance Company (Leatherby) appeals from the denial of its cross-motion for summary judgment seeking to have plaintiff's suit dismissed as barred by the time limitation imposed by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1(a), applicable under the No Fault Insurance Law, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 et seq. , to plaintiff's claim for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits.
Plaintiff was involved in an accident on September 13, 1974, involving an automobile and the motorcycle plaintiff was riding. On March 7, 1977 he filed a complaint against defendant and another insurance company,*fn1 after both companies refused to honor his claims for payment of PIP benefits under the respective policies. Defendant filed a timely
answer in which, among other things, it denied liability to plaintiff and asserted that the stated statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1(a), barred plaintiff's suit. Plaintiff and defendant filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In an affidavit supporting his motion, plaintiff asserted that he was seeking reimbursement for those funds which he had to expend for medical care during the two years immediately prior to the filing date of the complaint, as well as future medical bills, incurred as a result of the accident. Defendant sought to have plaintiff's complaint dismissed on the ground that it was not filed within two years of the date of the accident or within two years of the date the first medical expense was incurred, that is, September 1974.
The trial judge granted plaintiff's motion, interpreting N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1(a) as providing for a two-year period of limitation which commenced to run after the incurrence of each medical expense which was related to the accident, regardless of when the accident occurred or when the first medical expense related thereto was incurred. Thus, since this plaintiff was seeking only those medical expenses incurred within the two years preceding the filing of his complaint, the trial judge deemed the action viable.
Defendant contends in this instance that that interpretation is erroneous and argues that the two-year period should be measured from the date the first medical expense which plaintiff knowingly related to that accident was incurred.
N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1 provides in pertinent part as follows:
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.
Accordingly, we must determine whether the two-year limitation set forth in that statute begins to run after an individual incurs his first expense, knowing*fn2 that that expense was caused by the accident, or whether that time limitation attaches to each expense known to be caused by the accident when that expense is incurred, regardless of and independent of the first expense or any other expense incurred as a result of the accident.
Although no reported decision in this State has dealt with this precise question, we are not left without any guidance whatsoever in this area. Generally speaking, statutes of limitations are designed to stimulate litigants to pursue their causes of actions diligently and to spare courts from the litigation of stale claims. They are ...