Tort actions are not just made against individual people or persons. Municipalities, including cities, towns, counties, and states, are held to legal duties of care just like the rest of us. Violation of a duty of care that results in someone being injured puts a municipality at risk of being responsible to compensate the injured party for their losses, just as the rest of us may be held responsible should our negligent actions cause injury. The process for bringing a personal injury claim against a municipality, however, greatly varies from that necessary to bring this type of claim against an individual. There are serious hurdles to bringing a claim against a municipality, and the clock starts running right away. 

The Time Hurdle

The short time period available to file a claim against a municipality is one of the most significant hurdles in this claim process, especially to a non-lawyer trying to do this on their own. In New York, the majority of claimants have three years to file a lawsuit. If the claimant is bringing a case against a municipality, they have only one year and 90 days from the date of the accident to bring their claim. However, one of the condition precedents to fulfill before that person can bring a claim against a municipality is that they are required to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of the date of injury.

Failure to file a Notice of Claim within the requisite 90 days will almost always lead to a claim being dismissed from court as a matter of law. The time period is barely three months.

The claimants are injured individuals who may have needed extensive medical care. This time limit is a significant block to bringing a personal injury claim against a municipality.

Understandably, it is all too often a problem for claimants. In fact, New York’s appellate courts frequently rule on whether a claim can proceed despite failure to file a Notice of Claim in a timely manner.

There are some narrow exceptions that may be cited to allow a claim to proceed despite failure to file a Notice of Claim within the 90-day time period. One such exception applies to minors. If the claimant was under 18 years of age, the child’s attorney has one year and 90 days to file the lawsuit despite a failure to timely file the notice. The reasoning behind this is that a minor is less likely to be aware of these time limits than an adult.

Notice Requirement

New York courts have found that the Notice of Claim statute, General Municipal Law Section 50-I (GML § 50-i), serves the purpose of protecting municipalities from old claims and allowing them to look into the specific circumstances surrounding claims. The Notice of Claim that must be filed within 90 days of the date of injury has its own set of requirements besides the strict time limit.  GML § 50-e states that the notice must include information such as:

  • Claimant name(s)
  • Date of incident
  • Details of incident
  • Location of incident
  • Basis for placing responsibility for incident on the municipality

The Notice of Claim must provide information that is sufficient for the municipality to investigate the claim prior to the claim proceeding to court. Failure to provide sufficient information and follow the specific requirements of the notice puts your whole claim in jeopardy.

GML § 50-e also sets forth very specific service requirements. The notice must be served on the municipality by personal service or by registered or certified mail. It must be delivered to the person designated by law to receive a summons in an action. In some cases, notice may be served electronically, but must contain a declaration stating, “I certify that all information contained in this notice is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. I understand that the willful making of any false statement of material fact herein will subject me to criminal penalties and civil liabilities.”

50-H Hearing

A 50-H hearing refers to another requirement that must be fulfilled when filing a claim against a municipality. GML § 50-H establishes that the claimant must attend a hearing on the claim they are making against the public entity. The best thing to compare a 50-H hearing to is a deposition. You will be asked a series of questions under oath about the incident that led to your injuries and the nature of your injuries. Once the hearing requirement is satisfied, the municipality has 30 days to make a settlement offer. You must accept or reject the offer before filing a lawsuit.

Sovereign Immunity

In addition to the above difficulties with filing a claim against a municipality, there is also the complete bar to a claim referred to as “sovereign immunity.” Governments are immune to certain types of injury claims. While the types of claim that fall under this vary by state, sovereign immunity will prevent a person from bringing a certain type of claim right from the beginning.

Under Article II, Section 8 of the Court of Claims Act, New York has waived its sovereign immunity. This means that sovereign immunity will not be an issue when bringing a personal injury claim against a New York municipality as long as you comply with the other requirements such as relevant time limits and the notice requirement. However, it is important to note that New York municipalities are immune from punitive damage claims.

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Michael LoGiudice is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School (1997) and has many verdicts and settlements totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. Michael handles all personal injury and medical malpractice claims. He also has a unique connection with municipality claims and construction accidents (New York Labor Law Sections 200, 240[1] and 241[6]). Michael started his law practice by advertising “WE SUE NYC.” For years, he built a reputation as a fierce adversary of all state, city, and local municipalities. For over 20 years he has dedicated his professional career to representing all victims of police misconduct, civil rights violations, bus, train, sidewalk, and crosswalk accidents.