The New Jersey Appellate Division’s recent decision in the case of Anthony v. Newark Housing Authority is a cautionary tale for personal injury victims injured on government property who fail to file a timely notice of claim. The NJ Tort Claims Act requires plaintiffs to file a “tort claims notice” within 90-days of an accident in which the government is a defendant.
The plaintiff in Anthony tripped and fell over a large gap in a sidewalk while walking through a residential complex owned and operated by defendants, breaking her leg. Several months later, the plaintiff met with an attorney to discuss the possibility of bringing a claim, but was allegedly told that the plaintiff “could not be helped because of some [ninety]-day rule.” Several months after that, the plaintiff contacted another attorney for a second opinion. Not until ten months after her accident did the plaintiff file a motion for leave to file a late notice of tort claim.
The trial court granted the motion in favor of the plaintiff, ruling that she had established the requisite extraordinary circumstances for her failure to file a timely notice. Specifically, the trial court noted that the plaintiff had undergone months of recovery following surgery that “impeded her ability to consult counsel as to her legal rights.” The trial court also held that defendants would not be prejudiced by late notice since the scene of the plaintiff’s accident remained unaltered.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, on appeal the Appellate Division reversed, ruling that the trial court erred in finding that the plaintiff had established extraordinary circumstances for her failure to file a timely tort claim notice. The court noted that the plaintiff had not presented any evidence that her injuries meant she lacked the physical or mental capacity to consult with an attorney. The court further held that the plaintiff’s ignorance of the 90-day notice deadline did not constitute extraordinary circumstances.
The Courts in New Jersey are strict in requiring evidence of extraordinary circumstances that prevented a plaintiff from filing a timely tort claims notice. Similar to the plaintiff in Anthony, if you fail to file a tort claims notice within 90-days of an accident involving a government defendant, you risk a complete dismissal of your claims.