The defendants move for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff has failed to meet the verbal threshold.
The novel question presented is whether a psychiatric disorder may constitute a serious injury within the meaning of the no fault law.
The plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident with the defendant on May 27, 1991. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff received orthopedic treatment for injuries that she sustained to her neck, back, shoulders and arms. Additionally, the plaintiff underwent psychiatric treatment for mental distress.
The plaintiff's orthopedist treated her on only three occasions. He diagnosed her condition as "post traumatic cervical syndrome with post concussion syndrome as evidenced by headache formation," and referred her to a physical therapist. The orthopedist concluded that the plaintiff sustained a "significant injury requiring three months of convalescence and care in my hands . . ."
A psychiatrist treated the plaintiff on 34 occasions, from June 26, 1991 to April 2, 1992. The psychiatrist's report stated:
The patient initially presented with symptoms of insomnia, over-eating, social withdrawal, re-experiencing, poor concentration, hypervigilance, avoidance of driving and ambivalence especially regarding her mother vs. her boyfriend.
The psychiatrist diagnosed the plaintiff with post traumatic stress disorder, cerebral contusion with severe headaches, and whiplash to neck. His prognosis was:
Good to excellent. Should the patient ever be victim to another auto accident, she would no doubt suffer similarly, but more severely. The last time I saw this patient she was free of her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but not her headaches. They may continue to bother her for the rest of her life.
The plaintiff lost only two and a half days from work immediately following the accident, but she contends that her activities have been severely restricted as a result of the injuries that she
sustained. She also contends that she continues to suffer headaches from the accident.
Based on the medical reports submitted by the plaintiff, this court has concluded that the plaintiff's orthopedic injuries are not serious and do not meet the requirements of the verbal threshold.*fn1
The plaintiff now contends that her psychiatric injury is serious and meets three of the verbal threshold requirements, namely categories 7, 8, and 9.*fn2 The defendant argues that psychiatric injuries are not compensable under the no fault statute, and therefore the plaintiff's psychiatric disorder is not sufficient to meet the verbal threshold.
The New Jersey courts have not addressed the issue of whether a psychiatric injury may constitute a serious injury under the no fault law. The New York courts, however, have addressed this issue with regard to the New York no fault law, on which New Jersey's law is patterned. The New York courts have concluded that psychiatric and psychological injuries may constitute serious injuries within the meaning of the New York statute.
In Harris v. St. Johnsbury Trucking Co., Inc., 57 A.D. 2d 127, 393 N.Y.S. 2d 611, 612 (App.Div.1977), the plaintiff sustained a "concussion of the brain and was suffering from a post concussion syndrome causing severe headaches and severe emotional sequelae, such as insomnia, memory defects, and depressive and anxiety neurosis." The court held that this evidence was sufficient to make out a prima facie case of serious injury under the no fault law.
In Quaglio v. Tomaselli, 99 A.D. 2d 487, 470 N.Y.S. 2d 427 (App.Div.1984), the presented psychiatric testimony that she suffered from post concussion syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression neurosis. The court concluded that this testimony constituted sufficient evidence from which a jury might conclude that the plaintiff sustained a serious injury within the meaning of the no fault law.
The court in LaComb By Claytor v. Poland Central School Dist., 116 Misc. 2d 585, 455 N.Y.S. 2d 994 (Sup.1982), held that a psychologist's report regarding the plaintiff's emotional impairment ...