New Jersey Supreme Court Makes it Easier for Plaintiffs to Come to New Jersey

New Jersey, largely due to its established multi-county litigation program —which often functions as a “mini” state version of an MDL— has long seen out-of-state plaintiffs choosing to file pharmaceutical product liability claims in New Jersey state courts. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a choice-of-law decision that will serve to invite more such forum-shopping in New Jersey.

McCarrell v. Hoffman-LaRoche, 227 N.J. 256 (2017) it involved an Alabama plaintiff (McCarrell) who was prescribed Accutane for certain skin conditions. McCarrell’s doctor, his treatment, the prescription, and the alleged illnesses and personal injuries he suffered as a result of the medication, all occurred in Alabama. Accutane was manufactured, packaged, distributed, and marketed in or from New Jersey. Hoffman-LaRoche, the defendant who manufactured Accutane, was also a New Jersey company. In Alabama, a plaintiff has one year to bring a personal injury lawsuit. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years.

At the time McCarrell filed his lawsuit in New Jersey, the Alabama statute of limitations had expired. New Jersey’s statute of limitations had not. The defendants thus moved to dismiss McCarrell’s claims as barred by the Alabama statute of limitations, which they argued should be applied under New Jersey’s choice-of-law rules.

The McCarrell court decided that when a conflict exists between two states’ laws with respect to the statute of limitations, New Jersey will proceed under the analysis set forth in Section 146 of the Second Restatement, including the consideration of factors set forth in Section 145 and Section 6 for the substantial interest test. In short, the test is now that if New Jersey has any substantial interest, then New Jersey’s statute of limitations must apply, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The McCarrell court unfortunately did not provide much guidance as to what those “exceptional circumstances” may be, and therefore it will be important to see how future decisions may interpret this. Nevertheless, we anticipate that New Jersey courts may interpret this new guidance broadly, thus allowing for more out-of-state plaintiffs to come to New Jersey to file claims that would be timely in New Jersey but that may otherwise be time barred in their home jurisdictions. As this could potentially impact any company that could be subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey for a claim by a non-New Jersey plaintiff, the full scope of this ruling could therefore be quite broad.

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