Most people are aware that there are deadlines for the filing of a lawsuit in a personal injury case. However, simply filing suit within the statute of limitations does not guarantee that a case will be considered in compliance with all rules pertaining to timeliness.
There may also be a statute of repose or – particularly in cases in which the defendant is a governmental entity – a notice requirement that is separate from the statute of limitations. A failure to give notice in a timely fashion can be just as detrimental to the plaintiff’s cause of action as missing the statute of limitations.
Facts of the Case
In a case recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiff was a woman who filed suit against a governmental entity (the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)), seeking compensation under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, for injuries she allegedly sustained due to the negligence of the defendant’s employee. According to the plaintiff, a bus driven by the employee struck a vehicle that she was in the process of entering, causing her to suffer various physical injuries.
The defendant’s answer to the plaintiff’s complaint contained an affirmative defense claiming that the plaintiff had failed to make a proper presentment of her claim as required by the Act. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this issue, and it appealed.
Decision of the Appeals Court
The court reversed, determining that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment. Although the plaintiff’s former attorney had sent timely notice of the claim to the “MBTA Claims Department” with a request that the claim (and accompanying documentation) be turned over “to the proper authority for handling,” the plaintiff provided no evidence that either she or her former attorney had any communication with the executive officer of the MBTA.
In denying summary judgment to the MBTA, the trial court had relied upon the “actual notice” exception to the general rule requiring that the executive officer be notified of a claim under the Act. The appellate court, however, decided that this was erroneous and that, due to the plaintiff’s failure to provide the notice required by the statute, her claim failed. The court acknowledged that this was a “harsh result” and that the MBTA obviously had notice of the claim, since they had settled with several other parties to the accident, but the court stated that it was not in the position to change the rule requiring that presentment of a claim under the Act be “made to the proper executive officer … in a timely fashion.”
Talk to a Massachusetts Injury Lawyer
If you have been hurt due to the negligence of a governmental entity, individual, or business, the experienced Cape Cod bus accident attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, are here to help. Call us at (888) 262-6664 to schedule a free consultation at our Hyannis or Plymouth offices – or in your home or hospital room, if need be. Do not delay in making this important appointment; issues such as the statute of limitations or proper notice in a governmental tort case can be fatal to an otherwise valid claim.
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