The Cassidy Law Firm Blog

Saturday, March 11, 2017

NJ Supreme Court Issues Important Ruling on Statute of Limitations

How much time do I have to file my personal injury claim in New Jersey?

A recent decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court has altered longstanding rules with respect to the statute of limitations and choice of law for tort claims.  The case, entitled McCarrell v. Hoffman-La Roche, will have a significant impact on personal injury cases in the state.  Our NJ personal injury lawyers at the Cassidy Law Firm explain this critically important case and its potential implications below.

NJ’s Prior Law Regarding the Statute of Limitations and Choice of Law

Under New Jersey law, tort plaintiffs will generally have two years from the date of their injury to file a claim.  However, when the injury occurs in another state or one of the parties resides in a different state, it can be difficult to determine which state’s statute of limitations will apply.  New Jersey law has undergone several evolutions with respect to choice of law and the statute of limitations.

McCarrell v. Hoffman-La Roche

In McCarrell, the plaintiff, an Alabama resident, filed a products liability action against the makers of Accutane in New Jersey, where the drug was designed, manufactured, and distributed.  The plaintiff used the drug in Alabama. He began suffering injuries in 1996, but claims he only learned that Accutane could have caused the injuries in 2003.

The defendant moved to dismiss the action, claiming it is time-barred under Alabama’s statute of limitations.  While New Jersey and Alabama both have a two-year statute of limitations, only New Jersey allows for equitable tolling of the injury until the injured party discovers he or she may have a claim.  The trial court rejected the motion, holding NJ’s statute of limitations applies and a verdict was rendered in favor of the plaintiff.  

After several appeals and a new trial, the case came before the New Jersey Supreme Court.  Rather than applying the currently accepted substantial relationship test to determine which state’s statute of limitations should apply, the court held that NJ’s statute of limitations is presumed to apply, unless an exceptional circumstance requires otherwise.  Uncertainty still surrounds the ruling and its sudden departure from accepted case law.  This ruling is significant for injured plaintiffs across the nation in that it could allow plaintiffs whose claims would be time-barred in their home states to still seek relief in New Jersey when sufficient ties to the state exist.

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