The biggest single change for 2013 in New York personal injury law is, without a doubt, the Uniform Notice of Claim Act, which Governor Cuomo has signed into law on December 20.
It's a real game changer. Let me explain.
Until now, New York public entities (counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, public authorities, fire districts, water districts, public libraries, etc.) have enjoyed disseminating a jungle of inconsistent procedural rules and time limits for starting personal injury lawsuits against them.
For example, almost all New York public entities require an injured claimant to serve them with something called a "notice of claim" (a document designed to alert the public entity of an impending lawsuit). But while 90% or so of them required that it be served within 90 days, the other 10% or so required that it be done within 30 days, and some even 60 days. And while the statute of limitations for suing 90% or so of them was a year and ninety days, about 10% required you to sue them within a year. Further, the manner of serving the notice of claim, and the official upon whom it had to be served, varied from public entity to public entity. If you served the wrong official, in the wrong way, your goose was cooked!
This morass of hard-to-find, unpredictable procedural requirements led to a predictable result: Many lawyers, even very smart ones, were unaware of the shorter time limitations, and were thus missing them. Also, they were sometimes serving the required notices of claims on the wrong public official or in the wrong way. As a result, perfectly valid personal injury and wrongful death claims against at-fault public entities were being tossed out of court on arcane procedural grounds, which of course gave birth to new claims against the lawyers who inadvertently failed to comply with the labyrinthine rules.
Enter the Uniform Notice of Claim Act -- a breath of fresh air! It establishes a uniform procedure, with uniform time limits, for claims against all New York public entities. A lawyer needs to know only one set of rules regarding how, and when, to serve the notice of claim and to file the lawsuit.
Highlights from the act are:
• A uniform manner of service of the notice of claim. The claimant simply serves the notice of claim upon the secretary of state. The secretary of state then sends a copy of the notice of claim to the public entity within 10 days.
• A uniform 90-day time limit for serving the notice of claim.
• A uniform one-year-and-90-day statute of limitations for injury cases and 2-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases.
• A claimant (or lawyer) who inadvertently "screws up" by serving the wrong public entity within the 90-days can apply to the court for leave to serve the right one after the 90-day time limit, and the application should be granted unless the public entity can demonstrate that it suffered "substantial prejudice" in the investigation or defense of the claim.
If you like simplicity and fairness, this legislation is a welcome change. If you like convoluted laws that confound and trick even smart lawyers into making fatal mistakes, and that get governmental wrongdoers off the hook, it's a bad change. In other words, if you are a public entity, you hate this law (and yes, they vigorously lobbied against it!), but if you are a neutral, fair-minded citizen (such as you, dear reader!) you should love it.
And of course we New York personal injury lawyers love it too. We can sleep easier, assured that we did not overlook some bizarre, arcane, hard-to-find time limit or procedural requirement for suing a public entity on behalf of our injured clients.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I'd love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
Syracuse and Central NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.