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

By on July 21, 2022 in Statute of Limitations with 0 Comments

By: Angela Reading, Law Clerk

Editor: Betsy G. Ramos, Esq.

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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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 30 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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