Failure To Serve Tort Claim Notice Within 90 Days Will Likely Result in An Inability To Your Claim For Damages
Appellate Docket No.: A-1187-18
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a published opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a denial of plaintiff’s motion to file a late tort claim’s notice ten months after the accident that caused the injury because of plaintiff’s gruesome injuries.
In Jeffrey, On April 9, 2017, plaintiff Jonathan Jeffrey was involved in a one vehicle motorcycle accident. He was severely injured and required several surgeries, including spinal decompression and fusion surgery. He was diagnosed with complete spinal cord transection at the C6-C7 level of his spinal cord, resulting in complete quadriplegia. Plaintiff alleges his injuries may have been caused or significantly aggravated by the professional negligence of medical staff employed by the State of New Jersey and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.
Plaintiff’s cause of action is based on the manner in which EMTs transported him from the scene of the accident on April 9, 2017. Plaintiff claims the EMTs caused or exacerbated the injuries to his cervical spine by the way they picked him up from the ground and placed him inside the ambulance. Specifically, the EMTs lifted him by his clothing, without first stabilizing his back and neck with a board, and placed him in the ambulance that took him to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) in Newark.
Plaintiff was released from RWJUH on April 17, 2017 and transferred to Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, where he received inpatient rehabilitation therapy for two months. He continued to receive rehabilitation therapy on an outpatient basis for approximately four more months. However, plaintiff’s counsel emphasizes that he “remains completely disabled and unable to perform rudimentary movements, let alone return to work.” As explained in the medical records, plaintiff has “tetraplegia,” a term used to describe the inability to voluntarily move the upper and lower parts of the body. The areas of impaired mobility usually include the fingers, hands, arms, chest, legs, feet and toes and may or may not include the head, neck, and shoulders.
Plaintiff retained the law firm that represents him in this appeal on November 15, 2017. At that time, plaintiff used a wheelchair for mobility, was unable to move his legs, and had minimal movement of his upper extremities. His decision to consult an attorney was driven, in large part, by a collection letter dated October 24, 2017, from Trinitas Regional Medical Center. The letter warned that if plaintiff failed to make credit arrangements immediately, the account would be “FORWARDED TO OUR COLLECTION AGENCY OR AN ATTORNEY FOR POSSIBLE LEGAL ACTION.”
Plaintiff’s counsel sent tort claim notices in February 2018 and filed a motion to serve the tort claim notices late. The trial court denied the motion, finding the notices were sent beyond the 90 day required time period, which would have expired in July 2017.
Plaintiff appealed and the Appellate Division reversed, finding the trial court vastly undervalued plaintiff’s injuries and impairments. As a result, the Appellate Division found that the “accrual” date under the statute began in November when plaintiff hired counsel. The Appellate Division found that under these circumstances plaintiff met the extraordinary circumstances exception to the 90 day requirement to serve a tort claims notice.
The Tort Claims Act is a shield to control the amount of lawsuits that are brought against public officials and entities. There is a harsh and strict 90 day requirement to notify the public entity or employee of your injury from the date that you became aware of the injury. Failure to serve this tort claim notice within 90 days will most likely result in an inability to pursue your claim for damages. This plaintiff was a rare exception. If you or someone you know has been injured by a public official or entity, contact Hark & Hark today. Our experienced attorneys have dealt with the Tort Claims Act many times and understand what is necessary to bring a successful lawsuit against public officials for personal injury.
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