Dismissed: Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Complaint Due to Statute of Limitations in Motor Vehicle Accident Case
Docket No. A-0008-22
Decided June 28, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided whether plaintiff Simon King’s complaint for personal injuries stemming from a motor vehicle accident on August 12, 2019 was timely filed.
Plaintiff filed his complaint against defendant and Stonewood Tavern on August 13, 2021. King alleged he sustained severe personal injuries when defendant negligently collided into his vehicle shortly after leaving Stonewood Tavern on August 12, 2019. Both defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on noncompliance with the two-year statute of limitations. In responding to defendants’ motions, plaintiff argued that his complaint had been timely filed because “the day of the event from which the designated period begins to run is not included when computing time.” Plaintiff also contended that if the court did not agree with his position, the doctrine of substantial compliance should allow his complaint to proceed because he took reasonable steps to comply with the statute of limitations and any delay in filing was due solely to his counsel’s legal secretary incorrectly recording the statute of limitations expiration date as August 15, 2021, in the firm’s calendaring system. Plaintiff also relied on an October 5, 2020 email from defendant’s insurer to plaintiff’s counsel requesting medical records to show defendant was on notice about a pending suit.
After considering the written submissions and oral argument of counsel, the trial court granted Stonewood Tavern’s motion and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint against it but denied defendant Tripp’s motion. The court found that the 2020 email from defendant driver’s insurer showed defendant Tripp could not claim prejudice and substantial compliance applied to her.
Defendant subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration. In deciding this motion, the trial court considered the Negron prongs, utilized to establish substantial compliance. The court again considered the substantial compliance doctrine and reaffirmed its conclusion that defendant was not prejudiced by plaintiff’s belated filing. However, after further consideration, the trial court determined plaintiff failed to satisfy the remaining Negron prongs or establish any equitable exceptions to the statute of limitations recognized by case law. Plaintiff subsequently appealed.
On appeal, plaintiff contended that the trial court erred by failing to invoke the doctrine of substantial compliance to avoid the dismissal of his complaint against defendant. Relying on Negron, he specifically contended he substantially complied with the statute because his counsel “utilized a tickler system as part of office procedure to prevent inadvertently missing a deadline” and his belated filing resulted only from human error in employing that system.
The Appellate Court ultimately affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint, finding that plaintiff had not satisfied all five elements of the substantial compliance doctrine, which include (1) the lack of prejudice to the defending party; (2) a series of steps taken to comply with the statute involved; (3) a general compliance with the purpose of the statute; (4) a reasonable notice of petitioner’s claim; and (5) a reasonable explanation why there was not a strict compliance with the statute. The court believed plaintiff cannot establish prong three, as the record contained no evidence that plaintiff initiated legal proceedings within the statutory time frame. The only evidence of communication between the parties during the statutory period was the October 5, 2020 email from defendant’s insurance company to plaintiff’s counsel. Although the court was aware that plaintiff is time-barred through no fault of his own, it could not ignore the statutorily imposed limitations period or apply equitable principles without support in the record to do so.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to personal injury matters stemming from motor vehicle accidents. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the plaintiff in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.