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Court of Appeals Reinstates Medical Malpractice Case against ER Nurses

Court of Appeals Reinstates Medical Malpractice Case against ER NursesThe Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, has given new life to a medical malpractice case involving nurses at St. Clare Hospital, finding that the trial judge did not comply with a prior ruling of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The case before the court involved a man who came to the hospital in June, 2013, complaining of dizziness and gastrointestinal distress. The plaintiff alleged that he asked ER nurses for assistance getting to the bathroom and was offered no help. He also requested a wheelchair, but the request was not honored, and he fell while visiting the bathroom under his own power.

According to the court of appeals, the judge was required under New Jersey law to hold what is known as a Ferreira conference, where any deficiencies in a plaintiff’s affidavit of merit are specifically addressed. The New Jersey Affidavit of Merit Statute, designed to minimize the risk of so-called “frivolous” lawsuits, requires a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action to submit an affidavit to the court, from an “appropriate licensed person,” stating that the defendant breached the standard of care for the profession. If such an affidavit is not filed, the lawsuit will be dismissed.

In 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled, in Ferreira v. Ranconcas Orthopedic Associates, that the presiding judge must hold a conference with plaintiffs to address any problems with an affidavit of merit before the judge can dismiss the lawsuit. In the St. Clare Hospital case, it appeared that the trial judge had a discussion with counsel off the record, but never put the findings of the discussion on the record, and never gave the plaintiffs any clear timetable for curing any defects in the affidavit.

The court remanded the case, ordering the trial court to schedule a hearing to address any shortcomings of the affidavit of merit.

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