On appeal from Superior Court of New New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.
Halpern, Ard and Antell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Halpern, P.J.A.D.
This is an appeal from a summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint. The narrow and novel issue presented is whether under the facts in this case defendant (hereinafter referred to as the State) is immune from responsibility under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq.).
The pertinent operative facts are not in dispute. In September 1973, following a hearing in the Ocean County Court, plaintiff was sent to Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, on an involuntary psychiatric commitment, because he was found to be a danger to himself and to society. On several occasions following his commitment he escaped or wandered off from the hospital grounds. In November 1973 he again escaped or wandered off, presumably without leaving the hospital grounds, and voluntarily surrendered six days later. Because of his exposure to the cold weather, both
his legs were frostbitten and had to be amputated. This suit was instituted by his guardian to recover damages from the State predicated upon the negligence of its agents in failing to exercise reasonable care for his safety.
In granting the State's motion to dismiss the complaint the trial judge relied upon N.J.S.A. 59:6-7, which provides:
59:6-7. ESCAPE OF PERSON CONFINED; INJURIES BETWEEN INMATES
Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for:
a. an injury caused by an escaping or escaped person who has been confined for mental illness or drug dependence;
b. an injury caused by any person who has been confined for mental illness or drug dependence upon any other person so confined.
The State recognizes that the statute purports to grant immunity for injuries "caused by an escaping or escaped person who has been confined for mental illness * * *," but argues that the intent of the Legislature was to immunize the State from self-inflicted injuries as well as claims for injuries to all third persons. We disagree.
In construing the provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act we must realistically interpret all the provisions of the act in light of the applicable common law immunities existing theretofore, and to favor the immunity provisions over the liability provisions. See Malloy v. State , 76 ...