What can I expect when filing a medical malpractice suit in New Jersey?

Read the basics of New Jersey medical malpractice law, including the deadlines and the damages that are available.

If you go to a doctor, you expect to get better, not worse. And you certainly do not expect any New Jersey physician or facility to act negligently, directly causing you harm. Unfortunately, for countless people across the country, this is the case.

Medical malpractice takes many forms: failing to diagnose an illness, improperly administering medication, failing to order a test, missing a diagnosis or otherwise providing substandard care. Anyone who has suffered as a result of an incident such as these does have recourse through filing a lawsuit.

Initiating the claim

The first thing that any victim of medical negligence should know is that there is a statute of limitations, which restricts the amount of time people have to file a lawsuit. In New Jersey, minors who are injured have two years from the date of majority to file a lawsuit, whereas adults have only two years from the date the injury occurred or the date the injury was discovered. For birth injuries, it is the child's 13th birthday. Failing to initiate the claim within that timeframe likely means sacrificing compensation.

However, if the case involves a birth injury, the time period is longer. According to the law, people have up to the child's 13th birthday to file a suit.

Proving the case

Though every medical malpractice claim is different, there are several constants that apply to each, and those are the following:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • The defendant must have breached the standard of care.
  • The breach must have directly caused the injuries.

The duty of care refers to the defendant's responsibility to the victim. For example, a patient who has been going to the same doctor for an issue for the past year would be owed a duty of care.

The standard of care is the accepted standard for what the professional or facility should have done to properly take care of the patient. This is usually proven through the use of an expert witness, someone who is in the same field as the defendant.

Damages available

There are three types of damages that a victim of medical negligence may recover. The first, compensatory damages, is in regard to the quantifiable financial losses that were sustained. For example, medical bills and lost wages would be economic damages. Non-compensatory damages encompass the non-quantifiable losses, such as the emotional pain and suffering someone experiences as a result of the event.

The last, punitive damages, are rare. These are typically only awarded in cases in which the defendant was especially or intentionally negligent. In New Jersey, the law caps the amount of money someone may be awarded in punitive damages to either $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is greater.

Because these claims are highly complex, it is wise to start the process early. Anyone who has questions should speak with a medical malpractice attorney in New Jersey.