Personal Injury Case from Wheelchair Accident – Ramirez v. Matawan Borough

Submitted by personal injury attorney, Jeffrey Hark.

36-2-4735 Ramirez v. Matawan Borough, App. Div. (per curiam) (7 pp.)

Plaintiff Natasha Ramirez, an incapacitated person, through her guardian Chiara Zannino, appeals the Law Division order denying her motion for leave to file a late notice of claim pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA) against defendant Matawan Borough. Zannino is self-represented. Ramirez is significantly disabled from a number of conditions, including cerebral palsy. Zannino is Ramirez’s mother and her full-time caretaker. On September 3, 2011, Zannino was pushing Ramirez, who was seated in a wheelchair, across a parking lot allegedly owned and maintained by Matawan Borough. The wheelchair “hit a crack in the pavement [causing Ramirez to] f[a]ll out of her wheelchair.” Zannino, who herself suffers from seizures, has been unable to secure legal representation. In the judge’s opinion, Zannino did not demonstrate extraordinary circumstances because there was no showing that she, as Ramirez’s guardian, was herself “incapacitated and incapable of pursuing the claim.”

Personal Injury and the Doctrine of Governmental Immunity

In this case, Ramirez was incapacitated on the day the injury occurred. Her caretaker, who is also a guardian, suffers from significant medical issues. The injury allegedly resulted in the complete loss of Ramirez’s limited mobility, exponentially increasing the physical labor required to care for her. For this reason, Ramirez’s home had to be modified to allow her access. The appellate panel concludes that exceptional circumstances do exist in this case, where an incapacitated person was the injured party, the injuries developed into potentially life altering difficulties for her as well as her caretaker, and that person is unable to obtain representation. This decision serves the statute’s essential purpose of allowing claims to be judged on their merit without doing violence to the doctrine of governmental immunity.

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