Many people are aware that if they are injured in a situation involving a municipality they may sue for damages. These cases often involve the city, town or village in which you live or work. An example would be a case against the City of New York for an injury resulting from a trip and fall on a broken or defective sidewalk. Public authorities, sometimes referred to as municipal corporations, may include among others, The New York City Transit Authority and other municipal transit systems, The New York City Housing Authority, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and The New York City Board of Education.
Suing the Government
Bringing a lawsuit against a government entity or agency is not like a suit against a private person or entity. The various federal, state and local government enjoy sovereign immunity from lawsuits. An idea inherited from old English common law, but has been upheld by U.S. courts under the reasoning that the power of the courts comes from the government, so the courts have no authority over the government. However, governments do grant authority to the courts to entertain certain lawsuits and actions against the government by granting specific permission. For instance, the Federal Tort Claims Act grants permission for certain lawsuits. Each state has there own version of the tort claims act, such as New York (Court of Claims Act) and California (Government Claims Act). However, even though the government, whether it be federal, state or local has granted a right to sue, they require certain procedures to be followed.
Notice of Claim
Before a lawsuit against a federal, state or local entity can be filed, the government requires a "notice of claim". Courts will dismiss a lawsuit if a "notice of claim" has not been provided to the appropriate agency. These notices of claim must be in writing and have to contain certain specific information to be valid. In most cases, they must be notarized and sent by certified mail. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in a legal bar to bringing an action in court for legal relief or damages.
Strict Time Limit Requirements
What many people do not know is that there are very strict "notice of claim" deadlines for bringing a claim of this type. In many cases a notice of claim against a municipality or public authority must be served in writing, within 90 days of the event which causes your injury. Even after the notice of claim requirements have been met, there are further statutory deadlines for the filing of a lawsuit which often differ from the deadlines for filing an action against a private entity. An example of this is the statute of limitations for filing an action alleging negligence against the City of New York. [New York, Court of Claims Act § 10.]
The law requires that not only must the 90 day notice of claim requirements be met, but any lawsuit based on that claim must be filed within one year and 90 days of the event which forms the basis of the action. A lawsuit alleging negligence against a private defendant in the State of New York may be filed within three years of the event which forms the basis of the action without any prior notice of claim.
The deadlines mentioned above may vary depending on who is bringing the claim. An example would be a situation where the claimant/plaintiff is an infant or a person under legal disability. However, this is not true of all jurisdictions. The deadlines should be confirmed for the particular government entity or agency that a claim or suit will be brought against.
In order to know your rights and protect your own interests, if you believe you have a valid claim against a municipality or public authority, consult with a qualified attorney immediately. Failure to meet strict notice of claim requirements and statute of limitations deadlines may prevent you from bringing an otherwise valid claim. If you are injured in an accident on public property or in a situation involving publicly owned vehicles or instrumentalities, contact an attorney for a consultation.