On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Petrella, Ashbey and Arnold M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.J.A.D.
The issue, projected by the decision in Alfone v. Sarno, 87 N.J. 99, 432 A.2d 857 (1981), is whether plaintiff can give a release as part of the settlement of her medical malpractice claim which is binding on her heirs and assigns insofar as it
expressly grants a release from any potential wrongful death action claims.
On June 8, 1983, Kim Garde filed a medical malpractice action against defendants, Doctors Wasson and Galdi, alleging medical malpractice in the failure to diagnose cervical cancer on or about December 16, 1980. On June 26, 1985, Garde executed a release of Dr. Wasson in consideration of $250,000. In the release she relinquished any and all claims and rights which she had against Dr. Wasson. Paragraph one provided:
1. Release. I release and give up any and all claims and rights which I may have against you. This releases all claims, including those of which I am not aware and those not mentioned in this Release. This Release applies to claims resulting from anything which has happened up to now. I specifically release the claims made for any and all personal injuries and other damages, including punitive damages, allegedly arising from medical treatment rendered at St. Peter's Medical Center commencing on or about December 16, 1980 which was the subject of a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-36436-83 and any and all claims for personal injuries and other damages, including punitive damages, alleged in the future as the result of the medical treatment rendered during the hospitalization at St. Peter's Medical Center commencing on or about December 16, 1980.
In addition, by signing this Release, I specifically release and give up any and all rights to and claims of pecuniary loss, injury or damage as those terms are defined in the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1, et seq., and as interpreted by the Courts of New Jersey, which might accrue to me and others by virtue of the death of Kim Garde whether such claims are pursued directly by Kim Garde or indirectly or by some person or persons in a representative capacity, if such claims arise in any way from or are in any way connected or related to the medical treatment rendered at St. Peters Medical Center commencing on or about December 16, 1980. It is expressly understood and agreed by me that a substantial reason and consideration of you in settling the previously mentioned lawsuit and agreeing to pay and paying the money set forth in this Release is the settlement, release and elimination at this time of any and all claims that I or others have now or in the future might have, absent this Release, for the wrongful death of Kim Garde. I further understand and agree that under the present state of the law in New Jersey that absent this Release and regardless of the entry of any judgment in this litigation, my heirs or others might have claims for the wrongful death of Kim Garde against you; see Alfone v. Sarno, 87 N.J. 99 [432 A.2d 857] (1981); and I further understand and agree that by executing this Release and accepting the money paid by you, I acknowledge that I have received fair, just and adequate consideration for any claims for the wrongful death of Kim Garde, and I further understand and agree that by executing this Release and accepting the money paid by you I have forever remised, released, discharged and given up any and all claims that
I or others might have against you for the wrongful death of Kim Garde arising from or alleged to arise from or in any manner related to the medical treatment rendered at St. Peter's Medical Center on or about December 16, 1980. I further understand and agree that if any claims are made at any time in the future by me directly or indirectly or by or on behalf of my heirs or others directly or by some person in a representative capacity, for pecuniary losses, injury or damages arising from the wrongful death of Kim Garde against you, that you shall be entitled to be indemnified by the Estate of Kim Garde and/or her heirs, executors, administrators or personal representatives for any sums expended in defending against said claims including, but not limited to, attorneys' fees and all costs of suit together with any sum paid by way of judgment, settlement or otherwise on account of these claims.
By this release, plaintiff specifically intended to bind her heirs. Paragraph four thereof stated:
Who is Bound. I am bound by this Release. Anyone who succeeds to my rights and responsibilities, such as my heirs or the administrator or executor of my estates, is also bound. I specifically understand that all of the terms and conditions of the Release are for the benefit of and binding on me, my heirs, the administrator or executor of our estates and anyone else who succeeds to my rights and responsibilities.
At the time Garde signed the release she had three children. She was represented in the medical malpractice action, its settlement and the execution of the release by the law firm of Garruto, Galex & Cantor.
Kim Garde died on January 22, 1989. Thereafter, the complaint in this action was filed on August 24, 1990, by Kim Marie Garde, the oldest of the decedent's three children (then age 19), as administratrix ad prosequendum on behalf of the estate of her mother. Her two brothers were then approximately ages 18 and 11. The wrongful death action complaint was prepared and filed by the same law firm that had represented decedent in connection with the settlement of the prior action against the same defendants. Defendants' answer raised the settlement agreement and release of June 26, ...