On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is Reported at 367 N.J. Super. 450 (2004).
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
[NOTE: This is a companion case to DiProspero v. Penn, et al., also decided today.]
This appeal raises an issue similar to the one addressed in DiProspero. In this case, the appellate panel ruled that Serrano had to prove not only that his injuries met one of the statutorily defined categories in the limitation on lawsuit threshold, but also a wholly new serious injury standard.
On October 22, 1999, Octavio Serrano, a twenty-one year old unemployed forklift operator, was injured in an accident while a front seat passenger in a minivan driven by his wife, Jacqueline Serrano. While making a left hand turn from Chestnut Avenue onto State Street in Vineland, the minivan collided with a car traveling in the opposite direction on Chestnut.
Serrano filed a negligence action alleging several permanent injuries and seeking, among other things, non-economic damages. The trial court granted defendants' summary judgment motion because Serrano failed to demonstrate the type of significant impact that the case law contemplates in order to meet the requirements of the verbal threshold statute. The appellate panel affirmed but interposed a completely new "serious injury" standard.
This Court granted Serrano's petition for certification.
HELD: The Legislature considered the injuries enumerated in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a) to be serious by definition. A plaintiff need only prove that he suffered an injury described in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a)'s limitation on lawsuit threshold to recover non-economic damages. In this case, Serrano must prove that he suffers from a permanent injury to a body part or organ. We remand to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
1. In DiProspero, we declined to the graft Oswin's serious life impact standard onto AICRA's threshold. (p. 10)
2. On its face, the limitation on lawsuit threshold forecloses a recovery for frivolous injuries. In DiProspero, we could not divine from the new threshold's clear language and history a legislative intent that this Court import the Oswin standard into AICRA. Similarly, we cannot conclude that the Legislature intended this Court to create a new subjective standard of serious injury and to transpose it onto the statutorily defined threshold categories. (pp. 12-14)
3. There is a fine line between interpreting statutory language and engrafting a judicial standard over that language. In this case, we conclude that the appellate panel created a judicial standard not intended by those who wrote and enacted the statute. It is clear to use that the Legislature intended to eliminate lawsuits for frivolous injuries, and did so by requiring a plaintiff to prove by objective clinical evidence, supported by a physician certification, under penalty of perjury, an injury fitting into one of the six statutorily defined threshold categories. (p. 15)
4. The Legislature considered the injuries enumerated in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a)'s limitation on lawsuit threshold to recover non-economic damages. Accordingly, we will not superimpose a new serious injury standard onto that statute. Plaintiff need only prove that he suffered an injury described in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8(a)'s limitation on lawsuit threshold to recover non-economic damages. In this case, Serrano must prove that he suffers from a permanent injury to a body part or organ. We remand to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion. (p. 16)
Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court.
JUSTICE RIVERA-SOTO filed a separate CONCURRING opinion. For the reasons expressed in Justice Rivera-Soto's concurrence in DiProspero, he concurs in the result here.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, ZAZZALI and WALLACE join in JUSTICE ALBIN'S opinion. JUSTICE RIVERA-SOTO filed a separate concurring opinion. ...