An article in the latest edition of the business newspaper NJBIZ highlights a disagreement between lawyers that has delayed an important change to our civil justice system for nearly a decade. As the article explains, plaintiffs’ attorneys have protested attempts by the New Jersey State Bar Association and other non-legal professional associations to standardize the statute of limitations in professional malpractice cases.
The State Bar and other professional organizations want to make the statute of limitations for all sorts of professional malpractice cases two years. Right now the length of time one has to sue a professional varies by industry.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that shortening the statute of limitations will prevent people from seeking justice, but at the same time they also claim, somewhat incongruously, that changing the law will result in more frivolous suits being filed.
NJCJI President Marcus Rayner rebuts this argument by pointing out that proposed reforms would keep New Jersey’s generous “discovery rule” in place, which ensures injured parties have enough time to fully vet and bring cases:
The discovery rule makes it so that, if a person was not aware that he or she had a cause for a malpractice claim, the statute of limitations is not imposed until the person could have reasonably discovered it. As the bill is written, the rule still applies with the shorter statute of limitations.
“Two years is ample, considering that,” Rayner said.
Rayner also pointed out that lawyers in New Jersey are much more likely than those in other states to file a claim with a malpractice insurer. He believes the longer statute of limitations contributes to New Jersey’s excessive malpractice litigation.
The article goes on to explain the impact our state’s current law has had on malpractice insurance rates, which are much costlier here than in our neighboring states:
New York and Pennsylvania have three-year and two-year statutes of limitations, respectively, for claims based in tort. Both states apply the discovery rule as well.
When measured in terms of malpractice insurance, the impact of this is that New Jersey’s rates are anywhere from 46 to 69 percent above those in New York, depending on the size of the firm, according to the bar association. Compared with Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s insurance rates range from 17 to 40 percent higher.
In short, supporters make the case that getting this legislation enacted after an almost decade-long fight for it would make malpractice insurance more affordable for small professional service firms with already-limited resources.
NJCJI will continue to work with the State Bar Association and other professional organizations to advocate for reasonable statute of limitations. People who have worked hard to earn a professional degree should not be priced out of the market because a certain class of attorneys wants to protect their bottom line.