Court Discusses Burden-Shifting Framework for Determining When Late-Filed Claims Against Public Entities Should Be Permitted

All personal injury cases must be filed within a certain amount of time. However, plaintiffs filing certain cases against a public or government entity must also provide notice to the defendant within a much shorter amount of time in order to preserve their right to compensation. In a recent case in front of a state appellate court, the burden-shifting framework of establishing “substantial prejudice” is discussed in the context of whether a plaintiff should be permitted to proceed with a case against a public defendant that was not provided timely notice of the claim.

Newcomb v. Middle Country School District

Newcomb, a 16-year-old boy, was struck by a hit-and-run motorist as he was attempting to cross the street near a school. The driver was later arrested. Immediately after the accident, Newcomb’s family notified the school. The family also sent an investigator to the scene of the accident to take pictures. A month later, Newcomb asked the police department for the file it had created throughout the investigation of the accident. However, since the case was still open, Newcomb was unable to obtain the file until five months had passed.

The police department’s file had more detailed photos of the accident scene, including several photos of a large sign on school property that looked as though it may obstruct a motorist’s view of pedestrians where Newcomb had been hit. Newcomb then filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging negligent placement of the sign. The lawsuit was filed about nine months after the accident.

In this jurisdiction, victims planning on suing a public entity must provide notice of the lawsuit to the entity within 90 days of their injury. Newcomb sought permission from the trial judge to file the claim despite the late notice, and the request was denied. The trial court explained that Newcomb had failed to establish that the school district did not suffer substantial prejudice from the late notice. Newcomb appealed.

A Court Must Consider Several Factors, Including Whether the Defendant Was “Substantially Prejudiced”

The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision and allowed Newcomb’s case to proceed. The court explained that the plaintiff’s initial burden to show a lack of substantial prejudice is a slight one and can be met with argument only. Here, Newcomb met that burden by explaining that the school board was notified of the accident within days of its occurrence.

The court continued that, once a plaintiff meets his initial burden, the burden shifts to the defendant to make a “particularized showing” of substantial prejudice. Since the school district failed to make this particularized showing, Newcomb’s case should have been permitted to proceed.

Claims Against Public Entities in Maryland

As in the case discussed above, claims against Maryland public entities must meet certain additional notice requirements in order to be considered by a court. In Maryland, a plaintiff must provide notice of their claim within 12 months to the Maryland State Treasurer. If a plaintiff wants to file a claim after that time period, the plaintiff must establish a good cause for the late filing. Additionally, the court will consider whether the defendant was prejudiced by the late filing.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Maryland car accident, and you believe that a public entity may be responsible, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for your injuries. However, you will likely face significant hurdles along the way, requiring you to act quickly and diligently. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of collective experience handling cases against public entities and know how to make sure their clients’ cases are heard without unnecessary delay or expense. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation with a dedicated injury attorney. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our time or services unless we can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Pre-Trial Destruction of Evidence in Product Liability Case Does Not Result in Sanctions, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published January 3, 2017.

Head-On Collisions on Maryland Roads May Increase as Winter Approaches, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 9, 2016.

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