The New York Court of Appeals recently published an opinion that reversed a state lower court’s ruling on an issue arising within a case filed by a woman whose son was seriously injured when he was struck by a car while walking to school. The plaintiff’s claim against the defendant school district was initially dismissed because the plaintiff did not serve that defendant with a notice of claim within 90 days of the accident, as required by law. The plaintiff had reasons for missing the deadline and requested an extension, which was denied by the trial court. With the court’s finding earlier this year that the trial judge abused his discretion by refusing to extend the deadline, the plaintiff’s claim against the school district will return to the trial court and proceed toward a settlement or trial.
The Plaintiff’s Son Is Injured in a Devastating Accident
The plaintiff in the case of Newcomb v. Middle Country Central School District is a woman whose son was struck by a car as he walked to school one morning. The plaintiff pursued a negligence claim against the school and the city, as well as the state where the crash occurred. After the 90-day notice deadline had expired, the plaintiff discovered information that the school district had placed a sign near the scene of the accident that blocked visibility and may have been the cause of the accident, and the sign was removed shortly after the crash. Since the materials reasonably available to the plaintiff for the first 90 days following the accident did not include any reference to the sign, the plaintiff requested that she be allowed to add the school district to her complaint.
The Trial Court and Appellate Division Deny the Plaintiff’s Request
The trial judge denied the plaintiff’s motion to extend the notice deadline and found that the applicable factors favored the defendant. The judge ruled specifically that the defendant was not on actual notice of the accident until over eight months after the accident and that the plaintiff failed to meet the necessary burden of showing how the district would not be “substantially prejudiced” by allowing the plaintiff’s case to proceed against the defendants. In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the appellate court found that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that late notice would not prejudice the defendant from defending the claim.
The Court of Appeals Reasons that the Lower Rulings Were Unacceptable
Although nearly four years have passed since the day of the accident, this latest ruling will ultimately permit the plaintiff to pursue her claim against the school district. The court ruled that the trial court had abused its discretion when it denied the plaintiff’s motion, finding that the lower court’s finding that the defendant had no actual knowledge of the event until eight months after the accident was factually incorrect and holding that it was the defendant’s burden to show how they would be substantially prejudiced if the plaintiff’s claim was allowed to proceed.
The court explained that simply having to defend a valid complaint is not the substantial prejudice that would justify denying the plaintiff’s motion. The court noted that the plaintiff exercised reasonable diligence in obtaining the information that possibly inculpated the school district in the accident, but they were hampered by an ongoing police investigation. The court rejected the reasoning of the lower courts as manifestly unfair, since under their analysis it would not have been possible for the plaintiff to sue the school district over their alleged negligence in causing her son’s injuries.
This ruling should be seen as a victory for victims of negligence by a government organization or employee, since the plaintiff has been vindicated from what was an unfair use of strict procedural rules wholly to deny an injured plaintiff from having their day in court. Unfortunately, not all victims have the patience, time, ability, or tenacity to pursue two appeals and hundreds of hours of legal work in order to be fairly heard.
Skilled South Florida Auto Accident Attorney
If you or someone close to you has been hurt by an act of negligence in a car accident, the South Florida accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank want to hear what happened. Our skilled South Florida injury attorneys have the experience and dedication necessary to fully advise you from the inception of your case all the way through trial. If you’ve been hurt, give us a call and set up a meeting. There’s no obligation and nothing to lose. Call our office at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Rejection of Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case Affirmed by Appellate Court on Review, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 28, 2016.
Plaintiff in Defective Tire Wrongful Death Case Will Not Have Evidence Excluded for Spoliation, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 4, 2017.