On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, L-8061-02.
Before Judges Stern, Wecker and S.L. Reisner.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: S.L. Reisner, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 14, 2004
This case presents the issue whether the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act of 1998 (AICRA), L. 1998, c. 21, permits lawsuits to recover uncompensated medical expenses in the form of PIP copayments and deductibles.*fn1 Adhering to the holding in Roig v. Kelsey, 135 N.J. 500 (1994), we hold that it does not.
Plaintiff Linda D'Aloia filed a lawsuit as the result of a September 1, 2001 accident in which her car was struck from the rear by a vehicle driven by defendant Sandra George. D'Aloia received treatment for soft tissue injuries. As her brief acknowledges, she had been involved in four prior motor vehicle accidents in which she claimed to have suffered similar soft tissue injuries. On George's motion, D'Aloia's claim for non-economic damages was dismissed without opposition, as she could not prove that her asserted physical injuries were caused by the 2001 accident as opposed to one of her four prior accidents. See Polk v. Daconceicao, 268 N.J. Super. 568 (App. Div. 1993). Over D'Aloia's opposition, the trial court, citing Roig v Kelsey, supra, also granted summary judgment dismissing her claim for reimbursement of PIP copayments and deductibles.
In this appeal, D'Aloia contends that AICRA legislatively overruled Roig by specifically providing, in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2k, that economic loss includes uncompensated expenses including medical expenses. Defendant George contends that since AICRA did not repeal N.J.S.A. 39:6A-12, which makes PIP deductibles and copayments inadmissible in evidence, the Legislature did not intend to overrule Roig.
In Roig v. Kelsey, supra, as in this case, an injured plaintiff sued to recover his PIP deductible and copayment under the No-Fault Act, the predecessor to AICRA. As in this case, the Court was called upon to construe N.J.S.A. 39:6A-12. The first paragraph of this section specifically provides that in a lawsuit to recover damages for injuries caused by an automobile accident, evidence of amounts paid for PIP deductibles and copayments is not admissible in evidence, while the third paragraph provides more generally that the injured party can recover"uncompensated economic loss" from the tortfeasor. After exhaustively reviewing the legislative history of the No-Fault Act, the Court concluded that the Legislature intended to prohibit lawsuits to recover PIP deductibles and copayments:
[F]rom the inception of the no-fault statutory scheme, the Legislature intended to eliminate minor personal-injury automobile-negligence cases from the court system. Kelsey's interpretation of section 12 would completely defeat that purpose and would produce congestion in the court system once again with minor personal-injury claims, which here total $538.80. [Roig, supra, 135 N.J. at 510-11.]
Despite the language in section 12 which in general terms permitted the right to sue for uncompensated economic loss, the Court concluded that suits for PIP deductibles and copayments were prohibited.
We are convinced that the Legislature did not intend that the insured could sue the tortfeasor for the minor amounts of unpaid deductibles and copayments. Our conclusion is reinforced by Judge Learned Hand's classic admonition that"[t]here is no surer way to misread any document than to read it literally." [citation omitted]... We cannot lose sight of the overwhelming goals of reducing court congestion and lowering the cost of automobile insurance. We are satisfied that the Legislature never intended to leave the door open for fault-based suits when enacting the No-Fault Law. If we adopted Kelsey's reading of the statute, courts would again feel the weight of a new generation of congestion-causing suits, and ...