Court Holds that Two Year Statute of Limitations for PIP Reimbursement Claim Begins to Run Upon the Filing of a PIP Claim Form

In an unreported Appellate Division decision, the court held that the two-year Statute of Limitations for a PIP reimbursement claim is triggered upon the submission of the PIP claim form.

N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 states “an insurer… paying [PIP] benefits… or medical expense benefits … as a result of an accident occurring within this State, shall, within two years of the filing of the claim, have the right to recover the amount of payments from any tortfeasor who was not, at the time of the accident, required to maintain [PIP] protection or medical expense coverage at the time of the accident.”

On December 1, 2006, Garrison Lange was injured in an automobile accident when his vehicle was struck by a vehicle owned by Holger Trucking Company.  That day, Lange contacted his automobile insurer, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group (NJM) advising of the accident and claiming he had sustained neck and back injuries.  That day, NJM created a PIP file and assigned a file number.

On December 4, 2006, the NJM adjuster mailed Lange a PIP application.  That day, Lange treated with Dr. Palluzzi.  On December 6, 2006, Dr. Palluzzi submitted bills to NJM for treatment.  On December 8, 2006, NJM received the bills.  Also on December 8, 2006, Dr. Palluzzi sent NJM a letter of medical necessity and requesting approval for a one-month treatment plan.  NJM authorized the treatment plan on December 11, 2006.

On December 20, 2006, Lange sent NJM a completed PIP application which NJM received on December 26, 2006.  It was not until December 24, 2008, that NJM filed its complaint against Holger and ARI seeking reimbursement of approximately $53,000 in PIP benefits NJM paid on Lange’s behalf.

Holger and ARI moved for Summary Judgment alleging that NJM’s suit was filed more than two years after Lange first advised NJM of the accident and more than two years after NJM opened its PIP  file.   NJM argued that the suit was timely filed because it did not receive Lange’s formal PIP application until December 26, 2006.  The trial court agreed with NJM and denied defendant’s motion.  On appeal, the Appellate Division noted that the statute does not define what is meant by “the claim.”  The court focused on the Legislatures’ use of the definite article in reference to the submission of “the claim” as the event triggering the running of the statute of limitations.  Accordingly, the court found that the Legislature likely intended to mean a single, definitive event and not any of a series of events in defining “the claim.”  The court also noted the very nature of the undertaking, (i.e., the fixing of the moment upon which the limitations period begins to run) suggests a need to provide the parties with a clear and unambiguous understanding of which of any number of occurrences is the triggering event for the statute of limitations.  The court placed significant emphasis on the fact that the Legislature described that event as the filing of “the claim” and not “a claim.”

The court then examined whether “the claim” meant the first claim (the initial telephone call); the last claim (last request for payment from a health care provider) or “the claim that is different from all others, namely, the insured’s PIP application.”  In focusing on the Legislature’s intent to fix one particular, distinguishable event as the trigger for the limitations period, the court concluded that the submission of the PIP claim form triggers the two-year Statute of Limitations.

What is interesting about the decision is that the court noted, “We are concerned by the fact – as the parties recognize – that the policy in question and perhaps others like it, do not require that an insured ever submit a PIP claim form; nor do the no fault laws compel such a filing.  As a result, the event we assume to be the triggering event for the time within which a reimbursement suit must be commenced may be something that, in many cases, may never occur.” The court then noted that “we take comfort in knowing that the Legislature is fully capable of correcting the statute’s ambiguity if it believes we have erroneously interpreted the statute.”

— Tom Reardon, Esq.

Reardon Anderson is a Tinton Falls, New Jersey based law firm which represents the interests of businesses, insurance companies and individuals throughout New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area. Please visit our website at http://reardonanderson.com to learn more about our firm.

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