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New Jersey's statute of limitations and delayed discovery

New Jersey's top court reinstated a $25 million verdict against the makers of Accutane, an acne medication. The drug was found responsible for the inflammatory bowel disease that led to an Alabama man's multiple surgeries and permanent changes in his overall health and well-being.

There are nearly 3,600 similar cases pending in New Jersey against drug manufacturer Hoffman LaRoche. While the company is Swiss, it had done business for many years in New Jersey, including the time period when Accutane was sold, giving the state jurisdiction to hear the cases.

In this particular case, the victim only took the drug for four months in 1995. There were no warnings included with the medication indicating it could cause severe inflammatory bowel disease. The victim's condition progressed until he had to have his colon and rectum replaced with a surgically constructed reservoir.

The victim didn't know that Accutane was the cause of his bowel disease until June 2003. He filed his lawsuit only six weeks later, but an appeals court threw out the jury's verdict on the basis that the victim had waited too long to file his claim. They said that the statute of limitations had expired--in both Alabama and New Jersey, product liability claims can only be filed two years after the date of injury.

However, New Jersey law has an exception that halts the clock on the statute of limitations until the victim either knew he was injured by a product or should have known, through the exercise of a little due diligence. Alabama doesn't have such an exception for delayed discovery.

The appeals court reasoned that the injury to the victim was done in Alabama, so Alabama law applied. New Jersey's Supreme Court, however, has ruled that New Jersey laws should apply, since the case is falling under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey courts. A handful of similar cases are expected to be affected by the ruling as well.

Cases like this illustrate why you should never assume that it's simply too late to file a lawsuit over a product that injured you. The delayed discovery rule may open the door to a valid lawsuit years after the initial injury. Talk the issue over with an attorney instead.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "N.J. Supreme Court reinstates $25M verdict in Accutane case," Salvador Rizzo, Jan. 24, 2017

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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