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NJ: The Importance of Interpretation

Carney v. Finn, 367 A.2d 458 (1976)

NJ: Underlying Workmen’s Compensation case

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: In June of 1972, a lawyer handled three claim petitions for the client in the Division of Workmen’s Compensation. The client alleges that the lawyer’s poor handling of the case resulted in the client receiving a lower reward. In January of 1975, the client filed a claim of legal malpractice against the lawyer. The lawyer’s reply to the client’s complaint asserted that the claim was prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, a two-year statute of limitations. The trial judge sided with the lawyer and dismissed the client’s complaint for failure to meet the two-year statute of limitations.

Issue: What is the applicable statute of limitations in this legal malpractice claim?

Ruling: The trial court was incorrect to dismiss the complaint under the two-year statute of limitations. N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, a six-year statute of limitations, is appropriate in cases of “tortious injury to the rights of another… or for recovery upon a contractual claim or liability.” N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, the two-year statute of limitations that the trial court relied upon, is only appropriate for “an injury to the person caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person.” The court reasoned that the two-year statute is only applicable to complaints of physical or emotional injury to the person. Since the client’s complaint is not one of personal injury, but rather of negligent handling of his Workmen’s Compensation claim, the six-year statute should have been applied.

Lesson: This case shows the importance of applying the appropriate statute to a particular complaint. It is necessary to carefully read the language of each statute in order to interpret its meaning. A plain reading of both statutes easily shows that there was no need for the client’s complaint to be dismissed for failure to meet the two-year statute of limitations.  

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Posted in: New Jersey, Torts/Personal Injury