If you think you might need to sue a government agency, you have to notify the agency of your intentions to sue. You do this by filing a simple one or two-page form called a Notice of Claim. (For these purposes—as well as my lawsuit—I’ll use the City of New York as the municipality.)
The types of cases against the City for which Notices of Claim are filed are:
- Personal Injury:
- Medical Malpractice
- Defective Sidewalks
- Motor vehicle accidents (city vehicles)
- Civil rights
- Uniform services
- Police action.
- Property Damage
The City agencies against which claims are filed are:
- Health and Hospitals Corp
You don’t have to rush into retaining a lawyer just to make sure you’re covered. You can file a Notice of Claim by yourself. In New York City you get the information and forms at the easily navigable web site Office of the New York City Comptroller John C. Liu.
The deadline, a/k/a statute of limitation, for filing a Notice of Claim in New York is 90 days. That’s pretty fast. So first, check the time limit on a Notice of Claim in your city and/or state.
If your municipality isn’t New York, search with a mix of terms: “city name,” “deadlines for filing lawsuits,” “statute of limitations,” and “Notice of Claim.”
The first links you’ll usually get are sites for law firms that offer this free information as advertising gimmicks for the firm. But they will give you what you’re looking for, which is basic information about statutes of limitations.
(I assume these law-firm sponsored web sites are punctiliously accurate, and/or have a disclaimer stating that they’re not responsible for any miscalculation you, the reader, might make. Otherwise, you could sue the law firm web site for … what? web malpractice?)
But try to be patient enough to scroll down past the law firms to an official state or city site (ending in .gov) to get that deadline.
Tip. When you find an excellent web site during your internet wanderings, take out your case list from your lawsuit binder, make a section called “Web sites” and write its address down. Because chances are you’ll never find it again.
Next count 90 days forward from the date of your accident. Mark it in your calendar as “Must file Notice of Claim today.” Add some exclamation points. Then count backward two weeks from that date and mark as “Must file Notice of Claim in two weeks.” Ditto, with the exclamation points.
It’s possible that your municipality counts only business days for statute of limitations purposes, but why bet on it? Count all days, weekend, holidays, everything. The worst that can happen is that you’ll file early.
If the lawyer you eventually retain determines that the City isn’t a defendant–or the City successfully defends against a lawsuit–nobody is going to get mad at you, or chase you out of town, or claim damages for filing a Notice of Claim. You’re simply protecting yourself.
Nowadays you can file electronically, but if you’re filing in NYC and are mobile, go down to the landmark 1914 Manhattan Municipal Building yourself and file it personally. Two reasons:
First, if your form is incomplete or you don’t understand what something means, you can ask the person at the Controller’s filing office. I’ve always been amazed at how helpful municipal clerks are when your presence is an announcement that you may be suing their employer.
Second reason for filing personally: the panorama. Although the Municipal Building isn’t perfectly maintained, it’s really spectacular. And you’ll recognize the awesome plaza under the great arches and columns as a frequent location for Law & Order, and other NYC- based shows and movies.