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Scooter lawsuit dismissal highlights challenges of suing government

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 storypublished 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.