Phillips v. Weicher – Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In most law school civil procedure classes students learn about a case called Krupksi v. Costa Crociere, which concerns a lawsuit against a cruise ship that was mistakenly filed against the booking agent Costa Cruise, rather than Costa Crociere themselves. The statute of limitations expired and then the plaintiff realized who the correct defendant was. The main issue became whether amending the pleading to add the correct defendant would relate back to the original claim, and should the new defendant have known they were the correct defendant. The case is more complex but that’s the basic idea. On May 15th, Phillips v. Weichert, was decided by analyzing similar issues.
Phillips slipped and fell at Weichert Insurance Company, where ironically, she worked as a quality control manager. She filed a complaint naming the owner of the company, James Weichert, as defendant along with John Does. One of the main reasons business owners incorporate themselves is to protect against individual liability in a case like this. Phillips didn’t name the actual insurance company as a defendant because they wanted to continue to explore how the building was operated. Even after discovering through a deposition of the operations manager that James Weichert was completely separated from the maintenance of the building as an individual, they still didn’t add the company as a defendant. Finally, after the statute of limitations ran, they moved to amend the complaint to add the company as a defendant.
Motions to amend are to be liberally granted so long as they relate back to the original claim. It is clear that Weichert Insurance Company relates back to the original claim that the plaintiff fell at said company’s facility. But undue delay is also a consideration here, especially since Phillips knew the identity of the real defendant. It is also true that if amending a complaint will result in a motion to dismiss that must be granted then there is no point is granting the application to amend. However, the statute of limitations is not self-executing. This means that until a judge denies a motion due to the running of the Statute of Limitations, it does not have the affect of barring that motion or application to amend. For this reason, and because the defendant company was not prejudiced since they knew they were the correct defendant, the application to amend was granted.