New Jersey Appellate Court Holds Affidavit Of Merit Not Necessary In Ordinary Negligence Claim Against Hospital

The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division (“New Jersey Appellate Court”), in its unpublished decision filed on March 25, 2019, reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint filed against a hospital “because some of the claims asserted in plaintiff’s complaint suggest claims that do not require an affidavit of merit.”

The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that while she was a patient in the defendant hospital, the hospital placed her in a room with another patient (roommate) who assaulted her by dragging her from her hospital bed onto the floor. As a result, plaintiff’s leg was injured and had to be amputated.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the defendant hospital and its personnel knew or should have known that the roommate posed a danger to the plaintiff and they negligently failed to protect the plaintiff. Among other allegations, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant hospital and its personnel had actual or constructive knowledge of the roommate’s “dangerous propensities” and those propensities created a foreseeable risk to the plaintiff. The plaintiff also alleged claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The defendant hospital filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint because the plaintiff had failed to submit an affidavit of merit. The plaintiff opposed the motion arguing that an affidavit was not necessary because her allegations were based on general negligence, rather than medical malpractice. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, stating “the only method by which the plaintiff can establish a cause of action successfully against the hospital is proof of a deviation of a standard of care regarding training or supervision of the healthcare staff as to the screening of the mental status of the roommate, as well as the consequent placement decisions. This would require expert testimony, and, as such, the need for an [a]ffidavit of merit.”

Affidavit Of Merit Statute

New Jersey’s affidavit of merit statute provides, in relevant part: “In any action for damages for personal injuries, wrongful death or property damage resulting from an alleged act of malpractice or negligence by a licensed person in his [or her] profession or occupation, the plaintiff shall, . . . provide each defendant with an affidavit of an appropriate licensed person that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices.” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-27.

The New Jersey Appellate Court stated “Not every claim against a licensed person requires an affidavit of merit. A plaintiff does not need an affidavit if defendant’s negligence is a matter of common knowledge … The common-knowledge doctrine applies where “jurors’ common knowledge as lay persons is sufficient to enable them, using ordinary understanding and experience, to determine a defendant’s negligence without the benefit of the specialized knowledge of experts … Thus, even when claims of simple negligence are asserted against a licensed medical facility, such as a hospital, an affidavit of merit is not required because jurors are competent to assess simple negligence occurring in a hospital without expert testimony to establish a standard of care.”

The New Jersey Appellate Court stated that there are three elements to consider when analyzing whether the affidavit of merit statute applies to a particular claim: (1) whether the action is for damages for personal injuries, wrongful death or property damage (nature of injury); (2) whether the action is for “malpractice or negligence” (cause of action); and (3) whether the “care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint . . . fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices” (standard of care).

The New Jersey Appellate Court held in the case it was deciding that the success of such a simple negligence claim will depend on why the roommate “assaulted” the plaintiff and whether the defendant hospital or its personnel knew or should have known that the roommate might assault the plaintiff. The New Jersey Appellate Court stated that the current record does not contain that information. Instead, that information will have to be developed through discovery. “On this appeal, we hold only that plaintiff is to be given an opportunity to take discovery to see if she can establish her claims of simple negligence.”

Source J.M. v. IJKG-OPCO, LLC d/b/a CarePoint Health-Bayonne Medical Center, Docket No. A-4268-17T3.

If you or a loved one suffered serious harm (or worse) while in a hospital in New Jersey or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in New Jersey or in your U.S. state who may investigate your hospital negligence claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a hospital malpractice case, if appropriate.

Visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 5th, 2019 at 5:21 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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