In New Jersey, accident victims have two years from the date of their accident to file a lawsuit, under the applicable statute of limitations. Any case filed after that deadline is subject to dismissal.
The Appellate Division recently considered an appeal of the dismissal of such a case, involving an automobile accident. The victim’s attorney contacted the responsible party’s insurer, which requested medical reports and other documents related to the claim. The insurer renewed its request twice over the ensuing two years, but the victim’s attorney failed to timely respond.
The insurer then requested that the victim undergo an independent medical examination, but after that exam was rescheduled once, there was no further communication until the plaintiff’s attorney filed a lawsuit one day after the expiration of the statute of limitations.
The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint. The plaintiff argued that because defendant’s insurer did not deny coverage during the limitations period, he believed that efforts to resolve the case would continue after the exam.
The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s argument for equitable tolling of the statute of limitations.
It found the insurer’s conduct was insufficient to cause the plaintiff to believe that his complaint need not be filed within the limitations period, and that scheduling the exam beyond the limitations period did not excuse plaintiff’s obligation to timely file the suit.
The Appellate Division agreed that there was no equitable tolling. It agreed that there was no evidence that defendant’s insurer had sought to lull the plaintiff into believing that he did not need to file suit within the limitations period. The court further noted that defendant’s insurer informed plaintiff’s counsel that no settlement would be considered absent the independent medical exam.
It concluded that it was always plaintiff’s burden to timely file the complaint.
Competent personal injury attorneys have systems for tracking statute of limitations dates.
Failing that, it is crucial for accident victims to confirm that their prospective attorneys maintain professional liability insurance, to cover them in the event of a missed deadline. It should be noted that this insurance is not required or mandatory in New Jersey. Our law firm has always had this insurance, but has never had a claim made by a client.
Call us today for a free consultation on your accident case.