Understanding the Concept of the Discovery Rule and its Complex Implications is Important for the Outcome of Your Medical Malpractice Case in New Jersey
Sadly, your medical team failed at meeting their duty of care, and now you suffer a devastating injury caused by their negligence. You have a medical malpractice claim, but you may wonder how you get those who caused you harm to pay for your damages. Medical malpractice claims in New Jersey have legal time limits and other rules that you must follow to pursue your claim through the court system. The complexity of the various rules can be confusing and costly when you violate them, so it is incumbent upon you to seek legal advice and assistance from a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer once you discover that a negligent medical professional caused your injury.
Statute of Limitations for Malpractice and Its Significance in NJ
One crucial law that you must know is the statute of limitations, which is the last date you can file a lawsuit to recover damages for your injury from the responsible party or parties. In New Jersey, you have two years to file a lawsuit for negligent acts or omissions that led to your injury. For minors, the deadline is two years after they turn 18, so this applies to victims of pediatric malpractice and other negligence as minors. For those over 18, the clock starts ticking from the date of your injury. Thus, when a negligent driver plows into your car, causing you broken bones and cuts, you have two years from the date of the accident to sue the driver for negligently causing you injuries. Importantly, birth injuries are subject to unique statute of limitations rules, which you can learn about on our dedicated page.
Meaning of the Discovery Rule in New Jersey
Since life is much more complicated than a one size fits all solution with overarching applicability to every single situation, the law in New Jersey understands that you may discover your injury later. Sometimes, weeks or months pass before you know someone injured you. So, for example, you may be unaware that you were exposed to toxic chemicals at a site you walked by on your way to work because you did not experience symptoms until months or years later. The law recognizes that it would be unfair to bar you from filing your damages claim against the negligent company that exposed you to toxic chemicals because it took over two years for you to discover the source of your illness.
Purpose of the NJ Discovery Rule for Medical Negligence Claims
New Jersey has the discovery rule to address the injustice to those who discover the negligently inflicted injury long after the negligence occurred. The law allows injured individuals to file a lawsuit against the party or parties who negligently injured them within two years of discovering the injury, not the date it occurred. It is an equity rule that allows an injury claim to accrue only after the injured person knows or should have known by exercising reasonable diligence in discovering they have a claim.
Examples of the Discovery Rule in Action in Medical Malpractice Cases
In the context of medical malpractice, misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and other medical errors lead to injuries that may not appear right away. For example, you may mistake your post-surgical pain as part of a normal recovery, only to discover months later in a subsequent emergency surgery that the previous surgeon operated on the wrong body part. Thus, the surgical repair to your left kidney did nothing to solve the problem with the right kidney, and your condition worsened.
By the time you figure out the mistake, the two years could elapse, especially when your subsequent reparative surgeries, treatment, and recovery take months. Of course, surgical mistakes are not the only medical malpractice injuries that take time to discover. More commonly, misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses cause serious illnesses to become deadly, such as cancer-related negligence. When a physician diagnoses stomach bloating and pain as indigestion without further testing, a patient can become seriously ill or die when the undetected ovarian tumor quickly grows and spreads throughout the body.
The Discovery Rule in Cases of Medical Errors Leading to Wrongful Death
When a patient dies due to medical malpractice, the patient’s spouse, parents, or children may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits are also subject to a statute of limitations, which starts to run at the date of the victim’s death. However, when the loved ones discover that the death occurred due to medical malpractice, the discovery rule may apply to toll or pause the statute of limitations until medical professionals find and confirm the cause.
Motions to Dismiss Medical Injury Claims Based on Expired Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations may seem like a harsh deadline. Once you file a lawsuit past the last possible date per the statute of limitations, you forfeit your right to pursue a claim against those who injured you. The party you sue will file a motion to dismiss your lawsuit due to the expired statute of limitations, and a judge will dismiss your case without credible facts and evidence showing that you did not discover your injury or the cause of your injury until after the statute of limitations expired.
The statute of limitations prevents people from bringing stale claims to court. Without such a deadline, people could file claims decades after the medical malpractice or personal injury occurred. After so much time, witnesses may disappear or forget what happened, or documents relevant to someone’s defense may be gone. It prevents surprise claims when it may be impossible to defend against such claims due to the passage of too much time.
Are there Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations and Discovery Rule in NJ?
However, when the defendant is responsible for the victim’s lost claim, they cannot request that a court dismiss a lawsuit due to its filing beyond the statute of limitations date. Thus, a physician who deceives a patient by lying to them and covering up for their malpractice may not object when the patient sues them for malpractice beyond the cutoff. Likewise, a patient who discovers the malpractice but is too physically or mentally incapacitated to file a lawsuit may not be barred when they file their claim after the deadline.
And yet, the discovery rule requires that an injured person exercises reasonable diligence in discovering the cause of their injury. In other words, you cannot ignore your symptoms for years without seeking the reason. For example, in an unpublished Appellate Court case, Boet v. Mondesten, Docket No. A-1797-17T3, the plaintiff in the underlying medical malpractice case claimed the defendant performed a surgical procedure at his birth that caused him lifelong pain from birth onward.
The plaintiff filed the medical malpractice claim three years after he turned 18, so the trial court dismissed the case because the plaintiff filed past the statute of limitations. A minor has two years from turning 18 to file a lawsuit for their injuries caused by another’s negligence. On review, the Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal because the plaintiff knew of his injury since birth and provided no facts in his lawsuit to give the court a legal reason for the delay. This case reinforces the notion that plaintiffs must act diligently to discover and bring their personal injury or medical malpractice action promptly.
Get Help Navigating the Impact of the New Jersey Discovery Rule and Statute of Limitations on Your Medical Malpractice Case
If you doubt whether you can recover damages for your injury induced by medical negligence, speak to a medical malpractice lawyer at Fronzuto Law Group for the attentive, highly learned assistance you need. We will ask you about important dates of your medical care, symptoms, treatment, and knowledge about who caused your injury and how. Our attorneys know the medical malpractice laws and rules broadly and deeply, so we can tell you about the validity of your claim and how a medical malpractice action works if you move forward with filing one. Preparation, evidence-gathering, and expert testimony are a large part of what our legal team will help you with when you hire our experienced New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys to seek financial recovery through a medical malpractice action. Consult with an attorney as soon as you know or suspect the cause of your injuries and find out further information about how our renowned firm can assist you. Call (973)-435-4551 or request a free consultation online to get started and avoid losing your right to seek the compensation you may be entitled to.