Special Statutes of Limitations: The New Jersey Tort Claims Act.
As we discussed in detail in our last blog post ‘Understanding Statutes of Limitations‘, knowing the statute of limitations, which is legalese for the word “deadline,” for your case is critical. This is because the statute of limitations is usually strictly enforced by the courts! This means if you miss the deadline for filing your case, even by a single day, you could be barred from filing suit forever.
There are a number of special laws in New Jersey that have their own, built in Statutes of Limitation, or deadlines for filing. Understanding and complying with these statues presents a unique additional hurdle to accessing the court system. It is therefore quite important that you are aware of when and how these rules apply.
The New Jersey Tort Claims Act
Background and History
The New Jersey Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq.) is a statute that was implemented to afford heightened protection to “public entities” from lawsuits. What this boils down to is that the State wants to protect itself and you, its taxpayers from being sued into oblivion.
The Tort Claims Act represents a compromise between the historical doctrine of sovereign immunity, which goes back to ancient times, whereunder kings and rulers could not be sued for misconduct or wrongdoing, and the modern philosophy of our legal system which allows individuals to sue each other to apportion blame and responsibility for wrongdoing.
Under the Act, the State makes it harder for you to sue it by setting up a litany of legal “hoops” through which you must jump, to comply and keep your case alive. We review some of the requirements of the Act below.
Who is a “Public Entity” Subject to the Tort Claims Act?
Per the Statute, “public entity” is defined as “the State, and any county, municipality, district, public authority, agency, and any other political subdivision or public body in the State.” N.J.S.A. 59:1-3. In plain language, this means that the Act applies to every, town, city, and village or borough in New Jersey, and all public services and agencies and groups that are fully funded by State or municipal governments.
Act requires that a person bringing a claim against a “public entity” file a “notice of claim” within ninety (90) days of the date of their accident or injury in order to proceed with a case. The act further requires that a claimant wait six months from the date they file their “notice of claim” to proceed with an actual lawsuit. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8.
Contents of Notice of Claim
To comply with the Act, not only must you file a notice of claim within 90 days of your accident, the notice of claim must also contain specific information that is required by the Statute. Failure to comply with specific contents requirements can result in a dismissal of your case “with prejudice” (read: forever). The contents requirement are as follows, you must set forth:
- The name and post office address of the claimant;
- The post-office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent;
- The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted;
- A general description of the injury, damage or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of presentation of the claim;
- The name or names of the public entity, employee or employees causing the injury, damage or loss, if known; and
- The amount claimed as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed.
Another trap for the unwary is that according to the Act, the specific requirements for the contents of the notice of claim can be modified by an administrative or public or municipal agency based on their own unique form. This can be confusing as such forms often include supplemental or differing requirements than the language of the statute. See N.J.S.A. 59:8-6.
Service of Notice of Claim
To proceed with a lawsuit against a New Jersey public entity, not only must you file your notice of claim on time and ensure that the contents of your notice of claim comply with the Act, you must also serve your notice of claim properly. The act requires that you serve your notice of claim directly upon the State or Municipal public entity that you are attempting to sue. N.J.S.A. 59:8-6-8.
The entire Tort Claims Act is a sprawling statute divided into nearly one hundred separate subparts. Apart from the Statute itself, there are a number of seminal New Jersey court decisions that supplement the Act by adding judicially-crafted doctrines, exceptions, and special rules and circumstances.
To ensure that you do not risk having your case dismissed as a result of failure to comply with the Tort Claims Act, it is advisable that you contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney, such as The Law Office of Alexander Schachtel, to help you preserve your rights.
Our law firm is located in Jersey City, Hoboken, Hudson County, and the greater New York City Metro area. We serve clients across New Jersey and New York in personal injury lawsuits and other civil litigation.
Let our firm help you determine the best steps to take for your case by calling now at (201) 925-0660.