This matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's Hilda Levines's, motion for partial summary judgment. The issue presented is whether a fracture to a prosthetic device permanently implanted in an individual's mouth constitutes a serious injury that satisfies the verbal threshold criteria, ie. is this an injury that results in one of the nine types of injuries specified in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a). This issue appears to be one of first impression in this State, and for the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted.
This litigation arises from a claim for injuries sustained by the plaintiff, Hilda Levine, as a result of an automobile accident involving the defendant, Peter Miller, which occurred on December 8, 1990. The plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by her husband, Jack Levine. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was covered under an insurance policy issued by Travellers Insurance Company. The Levines selected the "Verbal Threshold" option under this policy. Thus, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a) is controlling.
Plaintiff was taken to Kimball Medical Center for treatment immediately following the accident, where she complained of pain in her head and lower back. She was treated in the emergency room and released that same day.*fn1
On or about January 11, 1991, Mrs. Levine presented herself to Dr. Richard Epstein, a local dentist, for various dental procedures which she claims were a result of the accident. Epstein prepared a hand-written note attached to his hand-written narrative report indicating the course of treatment. Epstein noted that Mrs. Levine complained that a fixed bridge attached from tooth number six to tooth number nine was loose. Epstein that he easily removed the fixed bridge from the supporting teeth. In addition, Epstein indicated that part of the posts in tooth number six and tooth number nine were broken off. In addition, porcelain covering tooth number nine had fractured off the casting. Epstein recemented the fixed bridge.
Epstein went on to indicate that, in February and March, he adjusted and made repairs to the removable maxillary partial denture. In April, further repairs were made to the fixed bridge from tooth number seventeen through tooth number twenty one. In June, Mrs. Levine treated with Epstein because the fixed bridge from tooth number six to tooth number nine was off its supporting teeth. Tooth number six required a new core to be placed on its post. Moreover, Epstein indicated that tooth number eighteen had abscessed and required extraction. In addition, tooth number nine required a new post and core and again the fixed bridge required recementing.
Epstein thereafter referred Mrs. Levine to Dr. Martin Ladman, D.M.D., regarding the possibility of placing implants in the right side of the upper jaw to help support the fixed bridge or replacing the teeth supporting the fixed bridge. In September, Ladman noted that the fixed bridge on tooth number six through tooth number nine was off its supporting teeth once again. Ladman further noted that the post and core on tooth number nine was fractured and non-restorable and further noted that the post in tooth number six was out of the tooth. With tooth number seven and tooth number eight now missing, the fixed bridge was rendered non-useable. Because of this, Ladman extracted tooth number six and tooth number nine.
Travellers Insurance Company, the PIP carrier in this matter, requested Mrs. Levine to attend an "independent medical examination". On June 20, 1991, Dr. Robert Moritz, D.D.S., rendered a report to Travelers. Moritz found that restorative dentistry was necessary as a result of the accident.
Ultimately, Ladman performed oral surgery in February of 1992. Epstein followed up by inserting oral implants in October of 1992.
Plaintiff argues that the defendant has failed to recognize that Mrs. Levine sustained a fracture. Plaintiff further argues that this diagnosis of a fracture was rendered by both the treating dentists and the independent dentist utilized by the PIP carrier.
Plaintiff contends that her injury meets the verbal threshold requirements, namely Category 4. The defendant argues that the breaking of a prosthetic bridge in an individual's mouth is not compensable under the no fault statute, and therefore the ...