Auto Reform Could Cost N.J. Drivers

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By Mark E. Ruquet

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NU Online News Service, Nov. 26, 3:10 p.m.EST?A proposal to alter the verbal threshold option forNew Jersey?s auto drivers would add $98 to $163 per car toconsumers automobile bill according to an actuarial study.[@@]

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The study, commissioned by Save Choices for New Jersey Drivers,was done by Pinnacle Actuarial Resources Inc. based in Bloomington,Ill., an independent firm.

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Save Choices is a group of carriers, insurance agents,businesses, and carrier associations who have banded together tofight proposed legislation?bill numbers A-3531 and S-2533?whichwould expand the language of the current verbal threshold option.Under the option, drivers agree not to sue for pain and sufferingfrom non-serious injuries.

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Bernard Flynn, a spokesman for Save Choices, and vice presidentand general counsel for New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Groupbased in West Trenton, N.J., said the sole purpose of the languagechange is to bring more law suits into the system. He said it isthe number one legislative topic for the Association of TrailLawyers of America-New Jersey, which is pushing for passage of thebills.

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The bills, Mr. Flynn said, have come out of committee in thestate Assembly, but have not been brought up for a vote. In thestate Senate, the bill has not gone through committee.

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In New Jersey, bills that do not pass the legislature by the endof the term die. The bills must be re-introduced with the newlegislative session. The current term ends in mid-January 2004.

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Mr. Flynn said that each day the bill is not acted uponincreases the chance of "preserving the right of consumers to maketheir own choice."

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The Pinnacle study examined closed auto claims from New York andFlorida, which are similar to New Jersey. However, Florida's lawpermits the type of lawsuits the New Jersey bill would allow ifpassed. From the study, Pinnacle concluded that rates for bodilyinjury would increase, adding between $98 to the $163 per car toauto policies.

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Mr. Flynn added that the report was commissioned to counterinaccurate information legislators may have received.

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A call to the Trail Lawyers Association was not immediatelyreturned. Representatives from the association have been quoted innews reports disagreeing with the results. They contend that theright of New Jersey's motorists to sue must be preserved and thatthe legislation would do that.

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