Stringent Timeline for Notice of Injury in Claims Against Government Entity

Many of our injury clients are businesses or individuals who sustain an injury as a result of the negligent actions of a North Carolina employee or agency. There are many special considerations that need to be made in these cases, including a close examination of sovereign immunity statutes and timelines for notice of claim. ice pond

Government agencies require those filing a claim for damages to first file a notice of that claim within a certain window, typically 180 days. So even though the statute of limitations may not expire for three years from the date of the injury, a claim can be found invalid if no notice of claim is given within that short window. That’s why it’s so important to seek legal advice just as soon as possible after suffering a serious personal injury.

This was the lesson learned recently in a case before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, where a college student filed a claim after suffering a slip-and-fall on campus.

The plaintiff was reportedly injured in a slip-and-fall accident when she fell on a patch of ice outside her college dormitory. Within the course of two weeks, her father e-mailed the campus risk management office regarding his daughter’s injury, explaining she had suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments and required surgery as a result of these injuries. He also asserted he hoped the university would assume some degree of responsibility for these expenses because the accident occurred as a result of the negligent maintenance of the steps outside the dorm.

The Vice President of risk management operations at the school expressed sympathy for the student and asked that she file an incident report. He also asked whether she intended to file a claim. The father stated he and his daughter would not involve lawyers because he had faith that the school would “be willing to satisfy the medical and other related expenses.”

However, the risk management office VP didn’t respond to this email or acknowledge his receipt of it until mid-March. (The incident had occurred in mid-January.) He explained that “for whatever reason,” the school hadn’t received the previous email or incident report, but he promised the school was not ignoring the situation.

For the next week, the father and VP corresponded several times about the need for an investigation, the production of medical records, and the incident report. The matter was then forwarded to an insurer, who told the family they were “not likely to recover much” from the claim but would probably get something. The insurer interviewed the plaintiff and attempted to reach a witness. But the insurance agent was out-of-town for a time, and the witness statement wasn’t obtained until early May. Meanwhile, the father sought updates on the claim but could receive none.

Ultimately, the insurer denied the claim. At that point, there were still 63 days remaining on that 180-day notice deadline. It wasn’t until the end of October that the plaintiff finally hired an injury attorney and served a formal notice of claim – 170 days after the claim was formally denied. She alleged premises liability against the school and the state.

The school responded with a number of affirmative defenses, including the plaintiff’s non-compliance with government notice requirements. It was on this provision that summary judgment was granted and ultimately affirmed. The court noted the plaintiff did not file a notice that satisfied the statutory requirements of the 180-day deadline and failed to show good cause as to why that notice was not timely filed.

Had she and her father hired an injury attorney from the start, it’s plausible this scenario could have been avoided.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Diviney v. University of Maine System, March 28, 2017, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:

Families of Boat Accident Victims File Wrongful Death Lawsuits, March 10, 2017, Premises Liability Attorney Blog

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