The Most Critical Mistake To Avoid When Suing A New York Municipality
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles
One of the most frequently decided issues by New York's appellate courts, particularly in the context of personal injury cases that are brought against municipalities or other governmental agencies is whether the claims should be allowed to proceed even though a Notice of Claim was not timely filed.
Why is that important, you ask?
Why Timely Filing a Notice of Claim is So Important
Consider this: unlike most accident cases, where, under New York law, claimants have three (3) years to file their lawsuit, cases against municipalities, such as the City of New York (and its subsidiaries) must be started within 1 year and 90 days from the date of the accident.
And it gets worse: before you are even allowed to file the lawsuit (which in legalese, is called a "condition precedent to filing suit"), the General Municipal Law states that you must file a "Notice of Claim," which is a document setting forth the particulars of your claim, including the names of the claimants, the date, location and time the claim arose, and the reason why the defendants should be held responsible for your damages, within 90 days of the occurrence.
If you fail to file this Notice of Claim within 90 days, your claim will often be barred as a matter of law. (Obviously, this does not afford claimants or their attorneys a lot of time to investigate thoroughly the nature and merits - or the lack thereof - of a claim. For more on this topic, please see "Why It's So Important To Investigate Your Child's Negligence Claim BEFORE You File Suit".)
There are some exceptions to this rule, however.
The (Narrow) Exceptions to the Rule
One of the most commonly accepted reasons for failing to file the Notice of Claim within 90 days of the occurrence is that the claimant was a child under 18 years of age (an "infant"). In those circumstances, as long as the child's lawyer files an application with the Court within the 1 year and 90 day period for bringing suit, the Court will often accept the late Notice of Claim because the child is presumably less aware of statutes of limitation than other claimants.
Needless to say, it is vastly preferable to avoid this risk altogether. Therefore, if you believe you may have a legitimate claim against a municipality (unlike regular defendants, where there is, generally speaking, no great time urgency), it is important that you contact a lawyer fairly quickly after your accident.