Tort Claims Act Monetary Threshold Bars Claim for Pain and Suffering But not Permanent Injury

Claims for pain and suffering are barred against public entities under the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:9-2(d), unless the claimant suffers a permanent injury and incurs medical expenses in excess of $3,600. The claimant must be able to prove a permanent loss of bodily function, permanent disfigurement, or dismemberment in addition to the monetary threshold. In Hardy v. Sparta Township High School, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1117 (App. Div. May 16, 2016), one of the issues was whether the plaintiff, who suffered a partial finger amputation, could pursue a claim for pain and suffering because he failed to submit medical expenses in excess of $3600.

The plaintiff, Cameron Hardy, age 17 was participating in an organized off-season weight lifting program for high school football players. Plaintiff was paired with another player to each hold opposite ends of a heavy-weight hex lifting bar loaded with weights. While carrying the bar, the other player slipped and fell and the bar fell on plaintiff’s right hand, partially amputating his middle finger and severing the tip of his index finger. The doctor was able to reattach his middle finger, but in a deformed state. However, the tip of his index finger could not be reattached at the hospital. The doctor effected a partial repair by pulling the flap over the top of the finger, but leaving the index finger deformed and disfigured.

Plaintiff sued Sparta, alleging that Sparta breached its duty of care to him, that it negligently supervised the training activity. He sought damages for permanent injuries, pain and suffering, and future medical expenses.

Sparta filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. One of the issues raised by the trial court judge was whether the plaintiff had met the $3600 monetary threshold under the Tort Claims Act. The judge barred the plaintiff’s claim for pain and suffering because he failed to document $3600 in medical bills.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Division noted that the law is clear that to pursue a pain and suffering claim, a plaintiff must suffer a permanent injury and his medical expenses must exceed the monetary threshold of $3600. Because the plaintiff failed to submit proof of medical bills in at least that amount, the Court found that the claim for pain and suffering was barred.

However, the plaintiff could still pursue a claim for the permanent disfigurement of his hand. Thus, the Appellate Division found that, while the plaintiff’s claim for pain and suffering was barred due to his failure to meet the monetary threshold, this failure did not bar his right to seek damages for the permanent disfigurement of his hand. Due to his permanent disfigurement of his reattached deformed middle finger and his significantly shortened and scarred index finger, the Court ruled that the plaintiff’s claim for permanent injury remained viable.

Capehart Scatchard Shareholders Present At Special Education Law Symposium

Capehart Scatchard Shareholders Sanu Dev, Esq. and Cameron R. Morgan, Esq. recently spoke at the 45th Annual Special Education Law Conference held at Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus.

Ms. Dev was a co-presenter at a seminar titled, “Mental Health, Including Therapeutic Placements: Balancing the Law and Family Support.”  Mr. Morgan was the presenter at a seminar titled, “Special Education Law 101: The Do’s and Don’ts of Special Education Litigation,” together with moderator Michael Kaelber, Esq., Director of Legal and Labor Relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association and parents-side Pennsylvania attorney Hollie B. Johns, Esq.

Ms. Dev concentrates her practice on school law and labor and employment law.  She is experienced in representing, advising, and defending boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline and civil rights.  She leads Capehart Scatchard’s School Law Blog, which focuses on cases, court decisions, and current developments affecting education law in the state of New Jersey.  Ms. Dev, a Hamilton resident, received her law degree from Rutgers Law School at Camden and her B.A. degree in Economics and International Relations, with honors, from Boston University.

A resident of Haddon Heights, Mr. Morgan focuses his practice in the areas of school law, special education, and labor and employment.  Over the years, he has represented dozens of New Jersey school districts in all aspects of their legal needs, handling a variety of matters ranging from teacher tenure/seniority cases, workplace harassment /discrimination claims, reductions-in-force, budget disputes, student discipline, student residency/homelessness matters.  In the realm of labor relations, he negotiates on behalf of boards of education with teachers’ and administrators’ unions, and has handled labor cases such as unfair labor practice charges, scope of negotiations issues, and the recent successful defense in the Appellate Division of the primary case regarding the negotiability of employee contributions to health insurance premiums.  He continues to be extremely active in the area of special education, handling the defense of numerous due process cases and Section 504 matters involving students with a diverse array of special needs.  More importantly, he continues to be a resource for local school districts in counseling and guiding them as to how such litigation can be avoided.

Rutgers Student Receives Scholarly Award From Capehart Scatchard Law Firm

Photo:  L to R:  Michael T. Cahill, Co-Dean and Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School; Mary Ellen Rose, Esq., Managing Shareholder; award recipient, Brooke Lewis; Ellen Goodman, Professor of Law; Vincent T. Cieslik, Esq., Business and Banking Department Shareholder

Brooke Lewis was the recipient of the 18th Annual Blaine E. Capehart Legal Writing Award, presented at the law firm of Capehart Scatchard on May 11th.  The award recipient graduated from Rutgers Law School at Camden on May 18, 2017.

The Mt. Laurel-based firm presented Ms. Lewis with a $2,500 award in recognition of her exemplary legal writing and research abilities.  The Firm offers this award to a graduating Rutgers law student on an annual basis in honor of the late Blaine E. Capehart.

Vincent Cieslik, Shareholder and Chair of the Business and Banking Department, commended the award winner, Rutgers Camden Third Year Law Student Brooke Lewis, for her craftsmanship, creativity and the bold character of her winning article, which focused on First Amendment rights in modern media as it relates to “haptic technology,” the delivery of physical sensations through smart phones, smart watches, and via the internet.

Addressing the audience gathered for the presentation of the award, Cieslik said, “Ms. Lewis’ commendable scholarship is recognized today in remembrance and to honor the career of founding partner Blaine E. Capehart, whose commitment to excellence in legal writing, reputation for statesmanship, work ethic and high moral character formed the bedrock principles that continue to guide the firm today, over one hundred years after it was formed in the City of Camden, at a time when Rutgers Camden Law was known as the South Jersey Law School.  We are proud to welcome Ms. Lewis and the deans and professors of the Rutgers Law School at Camden to our Mount Laurel, New Jersey Office for the 18th Annual Blaine E. Capehart Legal Writing Award Ceremony and Reception today, to continue our strong partnership with Rutgers and the high-quality graduates it continues to prepare for the legal profession each year.”

Capehart Scatchard Attorney Presents On Estate Planning

Capehart Scatchard Shareholder, Yasmeen S. Khaleel, Esq., spoke on May 1, 2017 at a seminar sponsored by the Food Bank of South Jersey.  Her presentation was entitled, “The Need for Estate Planning at Any Age: How to Protect Your Assets.”

During her presentation, Ms. Khaleel, addressed the salient estate planning issues; necessary documentation; common mistakes and ways to facilitate a smooth transition of control or wealth upon disability or death.

Ms. Khaleel is the co-chair of the firm’s Wills, Trusts and Estates Department, as well as the Business and Tax Department. Khaleel focuses her practice on representing individuals, business owners, medical, dental and other professionals in estate planning, estate and trust administration, business succession planning and transactional and tax planning.  Ms. Khaleel is the Past president of the Estate and Financial Planning Council of Southern New Jersey, is on the board of directors for the Animal Welfare Association, is a committee member of the Samaritan Hospice and Health Care Planned Giving Committee and is the President of the Board of Directors for Asian Indian Professionals, Inc.