WHAT IS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS GOVERNING A BUS PASSENGER’S CLAIM FOR NO-FAULT MEDICAL EXPENSE BENEFITS?
In Johnson v. Republic Western Insurance Company, 391 N. J. Super.194 (2007), the Appellate Division held that a bus passenger’s claim for no-fault medical expense benefits (“MEB”) from the bus owner’s insurer is governed by the six-year contract statute of limitations, rather than the two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims for personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefits under automobile policies.
The plaintiff, Jacqueline Johnson, was a passenger in a New Jersey Transit bus involved in an accident on November 3, 2001, and the last medical expense benefit paid by the defendant was on February 6, 2003. The plaintiff filed a complaint on October 28, 2005. The question posed was whether this filing was time barred.
The motor bus PIP statute is set forth in N.J.S.A. 17:28-1. The statute states the following;
a. Every owner, registered owner, or operator of a motor bus registered
or principally garaged in this State shall maintain medical expense
benefits coverage, under provisions approved by the commissioner,
without regard to negligence, liability or fault of any kind, to any
passenger who sustained bodily injury as a result of an accident
while occupying, entering into, and alighting from a motor bus.
b. Medical expense benefits coverage shall include the payment of
reasonable medical expenses in an amount not to exceed $250,000 per
person per accident. In the event of death, payments shall be made
to the estate of the decedent.
It should be noted that the motor bus PIP statute does not specifically address the statute of limitations time frame for MEB as the automobile PIP statute does under N.J.S.A. 30:6A-13.1 which states: “ an action shall be commenced not later than two years after the injured person or survivor suffers a loss or incurs an expense . . . or not later than four years after the accident whichever is earlier, provided, however, that if the benefits have been paid before then an action for further benefits may be commenced not later than two years after the last payment of benefits.” Furthermore, the motor bus PIP statute does not implicitly or explicitly make reference to the time period of the automobile PIP statute, therefore disallowing such an application. The reverse is also true in that the automobile PIP statute does not make any reference to the motor bus PIP statute despite a list of the types of policies under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-13.1. Therefore, there can be found no legislative intent to allow one statute to fill in the silence of the other. The question raised thereafter was whether there can be found “legislative oversight”.
The court has allowed for an amendment by implication of the MEB motor bus statute only in circumstances dealing with the reimbursement of PIP payments to carriers and the so-called “deemer” statute by stating same to be legislative oversight. Park v. Park, 309 N.J. Super, 312 (App. Div.), certif. denied 156 N.J. 381 (1998). The courts and the ensuing case law has refused to construe bus MEB as part of an overall PIP scheme especially when dealing with the verbal threshold and primacy of coverage issues. The Appellate Division in the case at hand continued to hold that not every statutory provision of the PIP statute should be imported into the MEB statute for bus passengers. The court does not find the omission of a statute of limitation in the motor bus MEB statute to be a legislative oversight because there has been “no overarching legislative scheme, nor case law, public policy, common sense or logic” that would compel an amendment by implication. The above mentioned two statutes are not interchangeable. Therefore, the court held that the bus passenger’s claim for no fault medical expense benefits from the bus owner’s insurer is governed by the six-year contract statute of limitations.
Nasim Oloomi. Esq.