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Massachusetts Woman’s Claim Against Governmental Entity Fails Due to Lack of Timely Notice

In some types of Massachusetts negligence cases, there are special requirements in addition to the usual steps for filing suit against the allegedly responsible party. For instance, a Cape Cod premises liability case involving a governmental entity may require notice of the accident to be given well before the time that the statute of limitations would otherwise run. If notice is not given, the plaintiff’s case is likely to fail, even if all other requirements are met.

Because of special situations like this, it is very important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after an injury caused by another’s neglect, recklessness, or carelessness. An attorney who focuses his or her practice on these types of cases can help you avoid procedural pitfalls that could end your case before you have your day in court.

Facts of the Case

in a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiff was a woman who filed suit against two defendants, a maritime academy and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, attempting to assert certain claims sounding in tort and contract. According to the plaintiff, she was injured when she fell during a boat ride on the academy’s premises on September 24, 2016. The plaintiff’s attorney sent a letter of presentation to the defendant academy on or about March 10, 2017, purportedly advising the defendant academy of the plaintiff’s claims. The letter was, in turn, forwarded to the defendant academy’s insurance company. After more information was requested, a second, more-detailed letter and settlement demand was sent to the defendant academy’s counsel by the plaintiff’s attorney on August 23, 2017.

The case did not settle, and the plaintiff filed a formal complaint in court. The defendant academy filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint due to her failure to comply with the presentment requirements of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 258, § 4. The trial court granted the defendant academy’s motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff’s first letter did not contain sufficient detail to constitute a proper presentment; her second letter, while more detailed, did not cure the defects in the first letter because it was not sent to the defendant academy’s president; and the plaintiff could not escape the presentment requirement by “recasting her tort claim as a
contract claim.”

Decision in the Case

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s decision. Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, a civil action could not be instituted against a public employer on a claim for damages unless the claimant first presented his or claim in writing to the executive officer of such public employer within two years after the date of the accident for which he or she sought compensation. To comply with the requirements of the Act, the plaintiff’s presentment of his or her claim had to set forth sufficient facts upon which public officials could reasonably discern whether the plaintiff was entitled to recovery. Here, the plaintiff’s first letter was deficient in setting forth the requisite details, and her second letter was addressed to an attorney, not to the public official to whom notice should have been given. As to the plaintiff’s attempt at a breach of contract claim, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that dismissal for defective presentment was the correct course of action.

Speak to Counsel About a Negligence Case in Cape Cod

The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III can help if you have been injured in a Cape Cod slip and fall accident. Call us at 888-262-6664 to speak to someone about setting up a free consultation. There is no legal fee until we settle your case or win a judgment in your favor in a court of law, so please call sooner rather than later. A delay in getting the advice and counsel that you need could result in forfeiture of your right to seek monetary damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses caused by another’s negligence.

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