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Letter to Mayor Did Not “Present” Student’s Negligence Claim as Required by Massachusetts Tort Claim Act – Rodriguez v. City of Somerville

student on campusYou may already be aware that certain filing deadlines, called statutes of limitations, limit the time that an injured person has to file suit against the responsible party. What you may not know is that there are other time limits that must be complied with in certain situations, and the failure to comply with such rules can be just as fatal to an otherwise legitimate claim as the failure to file within the time allowed by the statute of limitation.

For example, in lawsuits against public entities such as cities and towns, a plaintiff is required to meet the presentment requirements set forth in the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act within two years, even though the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims is three years.

The Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Rodriguez v. City of Somerville, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was called upon to decide whether the plaintiff in a negligence suit against a city had properly presented his claim as required by the Act. The plaintiff was the father and next friend of a second grader who was injured when he was struck in the head by a metal door frame that fell from a door at his school. The defendant was the city that owned the school building. The accident occurred on April 14, 2011. On May 11, 2011, the father’s attorney sent a letter to the city’s mayor concerning the incident.

The father filed suit on March 29, 2013, and the city filed a motion to dismiss based upon the father’s failure to properly present the student’s claim as required under the Act. The trial court denied the motion, holding that the attorney’s letter satisfied the presentment requirement of the Act. The city filed an interlocutory appeal, but the intermediate appellate court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the doctrine of present execution was inapplicable.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

After considering both parties’ arguments, the state’s high court reversed the trial court’s denial of the city’s motion to dismiss. According to the court, the letter from the father’s attorney to the mayor was “in essence, a public records request” that could, at best, be considered “a precursor to a potential claim.” The court found that the letter was merely an attempt by counsel to gather more information about whether a claim might actually exist, rather than a true presentment of the claim as required by the Act. Since the letter did not identify any legal basis for a claim against the city, it did not “present” a claim that the city could have reasonably been expected to investigate.

To Speak to a Massachusetts Accident Attorney

If you have been hurt by the negligence of an individual, business, or governmental entity, the Law Office of John C. Manoog, III can help you assert your legal rights against the responsible party. This includes claims arising from premises liability, products liability, car accidents, and other harm caused by another’s careless or reckless conduct. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your Cape Cod or other Massachusetts personal injury claim. Our offices are conveniently located in Plymouth and Hyannis. Nos Falamos Portugues!

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