- Posts by William GibsonMember of the Firm
Litigation attorney Bill Gibson focuses his practice on the interplay between complex facts and complicated law. He works with clients and expert witnesses to craft compelling, accurate, and admissible expert testimony that will ...
On September 30, 2021, the federal Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services issued “Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part II,” the second in a series of interim final regulations (the “Second NSA Rules”) implementing the No Surprises Act (“NSA”). This new federal law became effective for services on or after January 1, 2022.
In an important win for healthcare providers, on July 17, 2020, the Third Circuit determined in a published opinion that an out-of-network provider’s direct claims against an insurer for breach of contract and promissory estoppel are not pre-empted by ERISA. In Surgery Ctr., P.A. v. Aetna Life Ins. Co. In an issue of first impression, the Third Circuit addressed the question of what remedies are available to an out-of-network provider when an insurer initially agrees to pay for the provision of out-of-network services, and then breaches that agreement.
This case arose because two patients—identified as J.L. and D.W.—required medical procedures that were not available in-network through Aetna. J.L. needed bilateral breast reconstruction surgery following a double mastectomy and D.W. required “facial reanimation surgery,” which the Third Circuit describes as “a niche procedure performed by only a handful of surgeons in the United States.” Neither J.L. nor DW had out-of-network coverage for these procedures. D.W.’s plan also contained an “anti-assignment” clause, which would have prevented D.W. from assigning his or her rights under the plan to the Plastic Surgery Center, P.A.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously held in Linda Cowley v. Virtua Health System (A-47-18) (081891) that the “common knowledge” exception of the Affidavit of Merit Statute applies only when a simple negligence standard is at issue, and does not apply when a specific standard of care must be evaluated. In this case involving if and how to reinsert a removed nasogastric tube, the Court reversed the judgement of the Appellate Division and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice because she failed to submit an affidavit of merit within the time required by the Affidavit of Merit Statute.
Enacted in 1995, the Affidavit of Merit Statute requires that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases “provide each defendant with an affidavit of an appropriate licensed person that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices.” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-27. The statute’s primary purpose “to require plaintiffs in malpractice cases to make a threshold showing that their claim is meritorious, in order that meritless lawsuits readily [can] be identified at an early stage of litigation.” Cornblatt v. Barow, 153 N.J. 218, 242 (1998). Failure to provide an affidavit or its legal equivalent is “deemed a failure to state a cause of action,” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-29, requiring dismissal with prejudice.
An exception to this rule is the judicially-created “common knowledge” exception which provides that an expert is not needed to demonstrate that a defendant professional breached some duty of care “where the carelessness of the defendant is readily apparent to anyone of average intelligence.” Rosenberg v. Cahill, 99 N.J. 318, 325 (1985). In those exceptional circumstances, the “jurors’ common knowledge as lay persons is sufficient to enable them, using ordinary understanding and experience, to determine a defendant’s negligence without the benefit of the specialized knowledge of experts.” Hubbard v. Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 394 (2001). Thus, a plaintiff in a malpractice case is exempt, under the common knowledge exception, from compliance with the affidavit of merit requirement where it is apparent that “the issue of negligence is not related to technical matters peculiarly within the knowledge of [the licensed] practitioner.” Sanzari v. Rosenfeld, 34 N.J. 128, 142 (1961).
Imagine these scenarios:
- Your company cannot perform a contract because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A vendor informs you that she cannot provide your company with necessary goods because of supply chain issues caused by a governmental emergency declaration.
- A subcontractor cannot perform because its employees are self-quarantining.
These are not hypotheticals. Scenarios like these are playing out around the country. The real-world impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is colliding with contractual requirements, and there is new attention to the legal doctrines of “impossibility,” “frustration of purpose,” “impracticability, and “force majeure.”
What do they mean? In a nutshell, traditional contract law says that an unforeseeable event occurring after the contract was formed can excuse contract performance, and determining whether an event was unforeseeable will depend heavily on the specific facts and the language of the contract.
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