A judge has dismissed a $5 million personal injury lawsuit against the
city of Lowell, Massachusetts, on a technicality. The lawsuit stemmed
from an accident suffered by the plaintiff while riding a police scooter
in 2009. According to a
story published in The Lowell Sun, the suit was filed in January 2011 and was
dismissed two weeks ago by a Middlesex Superior Court judge. The dismissal
provides another example of the inherent challenges in suing a government entity.
Alleged Police Negligence Helped Cause Accident
On August 5, 2009, a Lowell Police Department officer loaned the plaintiff
his police-issued motorized scooter. The plaintiff, who is now 79 years
old, was not wearing a helmet and had no formal scooter training. The
battery-powered scooter can travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.
The plaintiff apparently saw the scooter and wanted to take it for a ride,
and the police officer obliged. However, when he rode over a sewer grate,
the plaintiff was thrown from the scooter and slammed his head on the pavement.
After the accident, the plaintiff was hospitalized in a coma for nearly
two weeks. Doctors apparently had to remove part of his skull to relieve
pressure on his
brain. Following his release from the hospital, the plaintiff spent many months
in rehabilitation facilities. When he was finally discharged and sent
home in January 2010, he had accrued medical expenses exceeding $447,000.
Lack of Proper Notice Led to Dismissal
On the surface, the plaintiff had a solid negligence claim against the
city of Lowell. Unfortunately, he failed to follow the proper procedure
for suing a city government. Under the
Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, in order to sue a public employer, the potential plaintiff must send
the potential defendant a “letter of presentment” within two
years of the injury, and then the injured party must wait six months before
filing a lawsuit. The letter is designed to give the government notice
of the potential lawsuit, and the six-month waiting period gives it time
to respond properly.
The plaintiff in this case sent the city of Lowell a letter of presentment
in November 2010, well within two years of the accident. However, he then
filed suit against the city in January 2011, less than three months after
giving notice. Since the suit did not comply with the state’s tort
claims statute, the judge dismissed it. This issue comes up often, as
governments attempt to shield themselves from liability and handle disputes
outside of adversarial civil court proceedings. The policy idea behind
these tort claims statutes is that taxpayer money should not be distributed
to individuals except when other avenues have been exhausted.
What to Do if You Are the Victim of Government Negligence
If you have been injured in an
automobile accident, or are thinking about suing a government entity, you should contact a
personal injury attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts
of your case and determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they
can help you seek the compensation you deserve.