Suing Over Significant Scarring or Disfigurement From an Automobile Accident

New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state, which means that if you’re injured in a car accident, you usually must turn first to your own insurance policy to cover medical expenses and other out-of-pocket costs. If you suffer serious injuries, with damages that go beyond what your policy will cover, you would need to pursue legal action against the other party responsible. But this can difficult if you’ve elected the "limitation on lawsuit option" in your automobile insurance, also known as the verbal threshold.

Under New Jersey law, the verbal threshold limits your right to sue another driver for damages arising from a car accident, including noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life, unless your injuries are of a type that falls into a limited group of exceptions. These types include dismemberment, displaced fractures, permanent injuries and significant disfigurement or scarring.

The exception for significant disfigurement or scarring can be a source of contention in a damages claim. Generally, a disfigurement is an injury that has altered the individual's appearance, such as burn injuries suffered in a fire. A scar is any obvious and lasting mark on the skin that resulted from the accident.

However, the term “significant” is subject to interpretation. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, a disfigurement or scar is significant only if it “substantially impairs or injures the beauty, symmetry, or appearance of a person, rendering the bearer unsightly, misshapen or imperfect, deforming the person in some manner.” Juries or judges may consider various factors when determining if an injury meets this criterion, such as “appearance, coloration, existence and size of the scar, as well as, shape, characteristics of the surrounding skin, remnants of the healing process, and any other cosmetically important matters.”

Victims of significant disfigurement or scarring can seek to recover the costs of medical treatment in abating the condition as well as noneconomic damages for how the scar or disfigurement affects their personal and/or professional lives. Juries or judges may take into account the location, size, and visibility of the disfigurement or scar. For example, a scar on a person’s back might be considered less significant than one on their face. Also relevant is the success or inability of medical treatment to make the scar or disfigurement less noticeable. Expert testimony may play a pivotal role in establishing the extent and impact of the injury and therefore of the damages recoverable.

If you have suffered disfigurement or scarring from a car crash and wish to pursue a damages claim against another party, an automobile accident attorney familiar with New Jersey law can assess the specific circumstances of the case, gather relevant evidence and guide you through the legal process.

Seigel Law in Ridgewood serves auto accident victims in the Passaic, Bergen, Essex and Hudson County regions and throughout northern New Jersey. Call us at 201-444-4000 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.

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