“The” vs. “A”

New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group/Garrison Lange v. Holger Trucking Corp., 417 N.J. Super. 393 (App. Div. 2011).  “N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 requires that an insurer, which has provided personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, must commence suit for reimbursement from a tortfeasor within two years of ‘the filing of the claim.’  The parties dispute whether the claim is filed when an insured or health care provider first requests reimbursement for PIP benefits or when the insured submits a claim form requested by the insurer.”  The Appellate Division, in an opinion by Judge Fisher, interpreted the statute as meaning the latter.

The court placed “significant emphasis” on the reference in the statute to “the filing of the claim” rather than “the filing of a claim.”  That usage indicated “a single, definite event and not any one of a series of events…. one event clearly distinguishable from all others.”  The court noted that, in common usage, “a” often means a single event as well, but that many courts have construed the usage of “a” in a statute to apply to multiple subjects unless “singular application was intended or is reasonably understood.”

That did not end the court’s inquiry, though, since various different discrete events might have been considered to constitute “the claim.”  The court ultimately determined that “the submission of the claim form or application requested by the insurer” is “the claim” that triggers the two-year statute of limitations.  Nonetheless, those pre-college grammar lessons about the different English articles have once again been made relevant to statutory interpretation.