Doctrine of Substantial Compliance In Wrongful Death Action

In . Negron v. Llarena, 156 N.J. 296, 300, 716 A.2d 1158 (1998), decedent's administratrix ad prosequendum commenced a timely wrongful death action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Christ Hospital, which is located in Jersey City. Jurisdiction was predicated on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C.A. 1332. the Court has also held that there is nothing in the terms of the Wrongful Death Act which precludes application of the doctrine of substantial compliance. Negron, supra, 156 N.J. at 304, 716 A.2d 1158. The matter was transferred to the federal court for the District of New Jersey. Soon thereafter, plaintiff filed a timely amended complaint naming two physicians, both residents of New Jersey. on November 28, 1994, the federal case was voluntarily dismissed due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the federal court. On February 16, 1995, four years and three weeks after decedent's death and two years and three weeks after the expiration of the statute of limitations, the complaint was re-filed in the Law Division. The Court rejected the argument that the action filed in the Law Division was time-barred. Justice Handler held that the doctrine of substantial compliance allows the flexible application of a statute in appropriate circumstances. Negron, supra, 156 N.J. at 304, 716 A.2d 1158. Specifically addressing the facts in Negron, Justice Handler stated: In the circumstances of this case where an action, though later dismissed, was filed within the time prescribed by the statute of limitations, we can turn initially to that doctrine [substantial compliance] to determine whether the condition implicit in the statute of limitations may be deemed to have been satisfied and whether plaintiff's complaint was timely filed.(156 N.J. at 304, 716 A.2d 1158). Ultimately, the Court concluded that application of the doctrine of substantial compliance was appropriate because the filing in federal court was timely, the filing in the Law Division was shortly after the dismissal in federal court, and defendant was not prejudiced because the case had been investigated and actively defended since its filing in federal court. Defendant was undeniably informed of the nature and substance of plaintiff's claim. Id. at 305, 716 A.2d 1158.