All civil claims are subject to statutes of limitations, which are basically a legal “countdown” that begins when someone is injured. When the time period expires, a claim may no longer be brought. These laws promote justice, discourage unnecessary delay, and preclude the prosecution of stale or fraudulent claims. They are essential to a fair and well-ordered civil justice system.
The task of defending any type of claim becomes more difficult as time passes. Witnesses become difficult to locate or pass away, records are lost or discarded, and memories fade. The ordinary “he said-she said” of litigation can turn into a one-sided allegation by a plaintiff that an event happened because the person says it happened, while the defendant lacks the ability to appear or muster facts that might disprove the allegation. The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute supports strong statute of limitations for all types of claims to ensure that defendants are not denied due process simply because time has passed.
New Jersey must retain the strong statutes of limitations it currently has, and work to strengthen the law in areas where the laws in surrounding states puts New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage.
On the books, New Jersey has a very reasonable two year statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. In reality, the period for filing a medical malpractice claim is virtually unlimited because the state’s discovery rule says that the two year statute of limitations does not start running until the plaintiff knows of, or through the exercise of reasonable due diligence, should have known of, the injury.
Enacting a firm statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims will ensure that New Jersey physicians are not blind-sided by a lawsuit filed an unreasonable number of years after they treated the plaintiff.
More than two-thirds of states have enacted “borrowing laws,” which generally provide that the statute of limitation of the state in which the claim accrued governs such claims. New Jersey, however, is among the minority of states that do not have a borrowing statute.
The state’s failure to enact a borrowing law encourages forum shopping by nonresident plaintiffs who file claims in New Jersey to take advantage of the state’s lengthier statute of limitations for their particular injury. Many pharmaceutical and medical device product liability suits filed by out of state plaintiffs would be barred in the plaintiffs’ home states.
New Jersey should enact a borrowing law in order to discourage forum shopping by out of state plaintiffs.
Two pieces of legislation that would significantly impact statute of limitations have been introduced this session.
Assembly Speaker Prieto (D-32) has introduced A1254, which would set the statute of limitations at two years for malpractice actions against the following licensed professionals: accountants, architects, attorneys, dentists, engineers, physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, registered nurses, health care facilities, physical therapists, land surveyors, registered pharmacists, veterinarians, insurance producers, midwives, pharmacy sites, and certain contractors, subcontractors and owners. The bill also prohibits the award of attorneys’ fees in actions against these professionals except where authorized by statute or the New Jersey Rules of Court. NJCJI supports this bill.
NJCJI opposes A1332, which is sponsored by Assemblywoman Quijano (D-20), and its Senate companion being sponsored by Senator Vitale (D-19), S868. This bill would completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse, revive previously barred claims, and vastly expand who may be found liable for abuse. While this proposal seems compassionate in theory, it could wreak havoc on any business, school or non-profit that works with children. New Jersey’s honest charities and volunteers would be left exposed to a plethora of indefinite, unintended consequences, and opportunities for the dishonest to take advantage of the law’s newly-expanded opportunities to sue.