On December 7, 2017, plaintiff sustained severe bodily injuries near her home in Brooklyn, New York, when Michael Gitelis assaulted her. After knocking plaintiff to the ground, Gitelis jumped into her Toyota Camry, put the car in reverse, and struck her with the car. A day earlier, Gitelis had been discharged against medical advice by the defendant mental health facility (“Crossroad defendants”).
Plaintiff filed her New Jersey medical malpractice complaint on December 3, 2019, four days before the running of the statute of limitations on her claims. Plaintiff’s complaint did not include Gitelis as a defendant, only the Crossroads defendants. On April 24, 2020, the Crossroad defendants were granted leave to file a third-party complaint against Gitelis, which they filed on May 1, 2020. After the court dismissed the third-party complaint for lack of prosecution, the trial court signed a consent order on March 19, 2021, permitting reinstatement of the third-party complaint and permitting Gitelis to file a responsive pleading.
On April 1, 2021, Gitelis filed an answer to the third-party complaint. In his answer, Gitelis asserted eleven separate defenses and a counterclaim against the Crossroad defendants. The allegations in the counterclaim closely mirrored the allegations set forth in plaintiff’s complaint, alleging that the Crossroad defendants failed to screen Gitelis for mental illness and involuntary commitment, resulting in his discharge at a time when he was a danger to himself and to others. Gitelis also alleged that the Crossroad defendants “violated the standard of care for facilities . . . trained to evaluate and treat mental health issues as well as substance abuse issues”; as a result, the Crossroad defendants “caused injury to [Gitelis] and others.”
The Crossroad defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the counterclaim as barred by the statute of limitations. Gitelis opposed the motion, arguing that his counterclaim was timely in the context of this litigation, pursuant to the “relation back” principles set forth in Rule 4:9-3. The motion judge entered an order denying summary judgment, rejecting the argument that the counterclaim filed against the Crossroad defendants must be dismissed as untimely. The judge appended to the order a statement of reasons for his decision, explaining that: 1) plaintiff’s original complaint was timely filed; 2) plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the Crossroad defendants failed to screen Gitelis for mental illness and involuntary commitment, leading to his discharge and the subsequent injury of plaintiff; 3) the counterclaim pled by Gitelis “relates back [to] the claims of the original complaint as both arise from the same conduct and occurrences”; and 4) because the counterclaim “relates back” to the date of plaintiff’s complaint, it is not barred by the statute of limitations. The judge also found that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding Gitelis’ counterclaim and that a rational fact finder could resolve this matter in his favor. The Crossroad defendants filed an appeal.
In its decision filed on March 9, 2022, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division held: “A comparison of plaintiff’s complaint and the counterclaim filed by Gitelis demonstrates that his counterclaim is germane to plaintiff’s original cause of action. Gitelis asserted that the Crossroad defendants should have “screen[ed] and /or involuntarily commit[ed]” him because he clearly posed a danger to himself and others. Plaintiff’s complaint similarly alleged that the Crossroad defendants should have done more to protect the public from Gitelis based on the obvious threat that he posed to himself and others. Gitelis based his counterclaim on the same facts as plaintiff. We are satisfied that the counterclaim filed against the Crossroad defendants is “germane” to the cause of action plaintiff alleged in her complaint, allowing for application of the “relation-back” doctrine.”
Source Segal v. Recovery at the Crossroads v. Gitelis, Docket No. A-3745-20.
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