Home Medical Malpractice Minority Statute of Limitations Tolling Held to Be Inapplicable to Suits Brought on Behalf of Minor Decedents or Their Estates

Minority Statute of Limitations Tolling Held to Be Inapplicable to Suits Brought on Behalf of Minor Decedents or Their Estates

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On July 14, 2022, the New Jersey Appellate Division in Monk v. Kennedy Univ. Hosp., Inc., 2022 N.J. Super. LEXIS 101 (App. Div. July 14, 2022), issued a published decision, holding that the minority tolling provision in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), which allows minors to file medical malpractice claims resulting from injuries until the minor is thirteen, was inapplicable to suits brought on behalf of minor decedents or their estates.

In this case, plaintiffs Shenise Monk and Jordi Wilson, parents of the deceased minor, J.W., sued defendants Kennedy University Hospital, Inc. and a number of their physicians, for the wrongful death of their son, J.W. J.W.’s mother became pregnant after a history of miscarriages and pre-term deliveries and received prenatal care from various defendants. When she was approximately twenty-four weeks pregnant, J.W.’s mother was admitted to the defendant’s hospital with complaints of cramping. After being discharged, she began to experience early onset of labor and was readmitted to the defendant’s hospital, where J.W. was delivered by emergency cesarean section and placed in neonatal intensive care. J.W. died about six months later.

More than four years later, plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging that negligence in pre-natal care and the delivery care resulted in J.W.’s death. The complaint alleged medical malpractice, negligence, corporate negligence, and a claim pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4. The plaintiffs argued the complaint was brought “on behalf of minor plaintiff only” and there were no separate claims for his parents.

Defendants filed for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death and survival actions. The trial court denied that motion, invoking the minority tolling provision in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), finding that the statute of limitations was tolled until the minor would have reached the age of thirteen. The Appellate Division granted defendants’ motions for leave to appeal that decision and, applying a de novo review, reversed the denial of summary judgment.

The Appellate Division held that the minority tolling provision did not apply because that statute allows only “an action by or on behalf of a minor” and that the Legislature contemplated that a “minor denotes a living human being,” i.e., “an infant or person who is under the age of legal competence.” (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary). The Court further noted, “[t]he stated purpose of minority tolling is to enable a minor to attain a level of life experience or comprehension sufficient to hold him or her accountable for legal decision-making, an eventuality that can never be met by a deceased minor.”

Because J.W. was deceased when the plaintiffs’ complaint was filed, the Court ruled that the two-year limitations period under the Wrongful Death Act, which governed claims brought on behalf of deceased individuals, plainly applied to the plaintiffs’ case.

Not all hope was lost for plaintiffs, though. They had also argued that they substantially complied with the two-year statute of limitations. Because the trial court had not reached that issue, the Appellate Division remanded for consideration of the substantial compliance issue.

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