In a claim against a New Jersey public entity, a plaintiff must prove a permanent and substantial injury to permit recovery. Under the Torts Claims Act, public entities are immune from suits unless there is permanent loss of a body function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment.
In Paz v. State of New Jersey, the plaintiff suffered injuries to her neck, back and shoulders after a trip and fall accident on a sidewalk at the Motor Vehicle Commission. She was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation, chronic neck pain, cervical neck pain, cervical radiculopathy, lumbar disc herniation, lumbar radiculopathy, chronic back pain, status post lumbar microdiskectomy and failed back syndrome.
By all accounts, plaintiff enjoyed a good surgical outcome, and reported her pain was largely resolved just two weeks after surgery. Plaintiffs treating doctor stated that she had reached maximum medical benefit. She returned to work and remained employed for two years following the accident. Although she complained of debilitating pain, plaintiff had no medical restrictions on her, and she relied upon over-the-counter medications for pain relief.
Plaintiff’s medical expert found a decreased range of motion in all directions in her neck, but he did not identify the degree to which her range of motion was decreased, or how that resulted in the substantial loss of any bodily function.
The court found that the plaintiff did not sustain a permanent loss of an bodily function under the language of the Torts Claims Act. Although it is not necessary for a plaintiff to prove a total permanent loss of use of a bodily function, “a mere limitation on a bodily function” will not suffice. Similarly, “an injury causing lingering pain, resulting in a lessened ability to perform certain tasks because of the pain,” is insufficient.
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, finding that she failed to demonstrate any reduction in normal function that was both permanent and substantial. Although unreported and not precedential, this case is an example of the threshold of injury required under the Tort Claims Act. Even surgery may vault the requirement of a substantial and permanent injury. The court will examine how a plaintiff has recovered from injuries and to what extent residual impact there has been on life a person’s function.
Thanks to Heather Aquino Obregon for her contribution.
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