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Court Allows Plaintiff’s Late-Filed Claim After Establishing the Defendant Did Not Suffer Substantial Prejudice

Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued an interesting opinion involving a plaintiff’s late-filed case against a school district. In the case, Newcomb v. Middle Country School District, the court held that the plaintiff should have been allowed to file his claim after the initial deadline had expired because he had good reason for the late filing, and the defendant did not suffer substantial prejudice.

School SignThe Facts

The plaintiff’s 16-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver as he was crossing the street near a school. The driver was not immediately arrested, but the plaintiff did report the accident to the school board. After the driver’s subsequent arrest, the plaintiff attempted to obtain the police department’s criminal investigation file but was prevented from doing so because the case against the driver was still open.

Nine months after the accident, the police department’s file was turned over to the plaintiff. In the file were pictures of the accident scene. Specifically, there were pictures of a sign that may have obstructed a motorist’s view of pedestrians where the plaintiff’s son was struck. The sign was on school property, but it had been taken down in the time between the accident and the trial.

Nine months after the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim against the school district, alleging negligent placement of the sign. However, since a plaintiff has 90 days to file a claim against a public entity in the jurisdiction, the plaintiff had to seek the court’s approval for the late filing.

The trial court denied the plaintiff’s request, explaining that the plaintiff was unable to show that the defendant did not suffer “substantial prejudice” due to the late filing. The plaintiff appealed.

On Appeal, the Case Is Reversed

On an appeal to the state’s highest court, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court explained that, while the initial burden to show that substantial prejudice does not exist does lie with the plaintiff, once that threshold burden is met, the defendant then must rebut the presumption with evidence of substantial prejudice. Here, the court held, the trial court applied the wrong legal standard by requiring the plaintiff to prove a lack of substantial prejudice.

The court explained that the plaintiff’s burden “need not be extensive, but [the plaintiff] must present some evidence or plausible argument that supports a finding of no substantial prejudice.” If the plaintiff can meet this threshold burden, the burden then shifts to the defendant to make a “particularized showing” of prejudice.

Cases Against Public Entities in Georgia

In Georgia, a public entity must be provided notice of a claim within 12 months of the alleged injury. In addition, the case must be filed within two years of the injury. An accident victim’s failure to comply with these rules risks a finding that the case is untimely. While the plaintiffs in the case discussed above were ultimately successful in getting their case heard, the favorable result was far from guaranteed and undoubtedly created additional stress and expense for the plaintiffs.

Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Accident Involving a Public Entity?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia accident, and you believe that a public entity or employee is at fault, your claim will likely be subject to very strict guidelines and procedural rules. The skilled hit-and-run accident attorneys at Miller Legal Services have years of experience bringing cases against governments and public entities, and we understand which additional rules may apply and how to successfully navigate claims through the system. Call 770-284-3727 to set up a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Injured Georgians May Have a Claim Against an Insurance Company that Acts in Bad Faith, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 6, 2016.

Georgia Appellate Court Discusses Spoliation Doctrine and a Party’s Duty to Preserve Evidence, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2017.