Suing the Government: Time Matters


Suing the government is something that personal injury attorneys do regularly. The government can carelessly cause an accident, just the same as a private party can.

But, surprise, New Jersey, like most states, has passed special laws that often make it very difficult for a personal injury victim suing the government to succeed. These restrictions on suing the government are known as tort claims laws.

An appeals court ruling shows how difficult suing the government can be.

Mr. Guirguis Matta lived in Jersey City. On October 31, his apartment building had no electricity due to a severe storm.

Sometime in the morning, without the benefit of emergency lights, Matta walked down the dark stairway to the basement to throw out his trash. He mistakenly opened and walked into the elevator door instead of the stairway door. Consequently, Matta fell down the elevator shaft to the basement, injuring himself.

suing the government

Matta hired an attorney. The attorney hired a private investigator to identify all potentially responsible parties.

On December 3, the PI submitted a request for public records from Jersey City. Subsequently, on January 22, the PI received a response to his request. The response included a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report.

The CAD described a response by the Jersey City Fire Department to an emergency call at Matta’s apartment building, the day prior to his accident. The call involved an individual who was stranded in the same elevator where Matta was injured.

The PI eventually issued a report to Matta’s attorney. The report identified parties who might have been responsible for Matta’s injuries. However, the report didn’t list the Jersey City Fire Department among the potentially responsible parties. Nor did Matta’s lawyers name the department in the lawsuit they filed on June 3.

New Information About City Liability Comes-But Was It Too Late?

In a conversation on the next October 17, an attorney for one of the parties being sued by Matta suggested to Matta’s lawyer that the Jersey City police and firemen who responded to an emergency call the day prior to Matta’s elevator accident may have caused the elevator malfunction which led to Matta’s accident.

Accordingly, on October 23, Matta’s lawyer filed a court motion to file a late notice of claim against Jersey City,

The problem for Matta was that, under the tort claims laws, an injured party must notify any government agency it intends to sue within 90 days after the accident.

To be continued.

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