Joyner v. Ortiz

By Michael Zerres

In this malpractice action against three doctors arising out of the wrongful death of a father of minor children following emergency room care at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, the plaintiff timely commenced the action within two years of the death of the patient. Almost two years later, plaintiff filed a first amended Complaint adding an insurance company as a defendant. Two months after that, the plaintiff filed a second amended Complaint adding two medical treatment facilities as defendants. Finally, one month later, which was nearly four years after decedent’s death, plaintiff was granted leave to add Trinitas Regional Medical Center as a defendant. Trinitas subsequently filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint as time-barred under by the statute of limitations. (N.J.S.A. 2A:31-3) This motion was denied by the Trial Court, and, Trinitas was granted leave to appeal.

The Appellate Division, on July 8, 2013, affirmed the Trial Court’s denial of Trinitas’ motion to dismiss. The Court looked to Lafage v. Jani, 166 N.J. 412 (2001), and, held that the wrongful death statute of limitations would be tolled, given the status of the estate’s beneficiaries as minors. However, the Court further concluded that, although under Lafage the wrongful death statute is tolled for minors, it does not stand for the contention that this action could have been brought at any time before the minors were adults. Instead, the Court left that issue untouched because, here, the wrongful death action was originally commenced in a timely fashion, and, defendant Trinitas was named as a party in an amended Complaint rather than in a successive action.

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