Tort Action Follows Strict Deadlines, So Best to Hire an Attorney
A recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling against a slip and fall accident victim highlights the importance of seeking prompt legal advice. The case involved an accident in which the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice outside of her University of Southern Maine (USM) dormitory. She broke a leg, tore ligaments, and had surgery for her injuries. Her father requested compensation from University administrators, who eventually turned the matter over to the University’s insurance company, which denied the claim. The Tort legal clock for filing a prelitigation notice of claim against the University started running on the day of the slip and fall. By the time the plaintiff had a lawyer who filed the prelitigation notice of claim, the 180-day deadline defined by Tort law for filing had passed.
The defendant in the case, the University of Maine System, got the case dismissed by the trial court based on plaintiff’s untimely filing of the prelitigation notice of claim. The defendant successfully argued that there was no case to take to trial because the plaintiff failed to follow legal requirements for bringing a case against a governmental entity.
Tort Filing Deadlines
Generally, but subject to various exceptions, there is a six-year deadline for filing most personal injury lawsuits in Maine state courts. One of the exceptions involves tort claims against city, county or state governmental entities. These types of tort claims have a two-year deadline for filing a lawsuit. They also have an 180-day deadline for filing a formal prelitigation notice of claim.
The Maine Supreme Court upheld the trial court on appeal, rejecting plaintiff’s argument that she had “good cause” for missing the prelitigation notice of claim deadline. While “good cause” may excuse a late filing against a governmental entity, the high court noted that “good cause” is interpreted narrowly. In this specific case, the high court determined that any “good cause” argument ended when the insurance company denied the claim because at that point Plaintiff still had 63 days to file the notice before the 180-day deadline would run.
There Was Still Time to File….
After the denial of the claim, Plaintiff had 63 days to file a timely notice of claim. The notice of claim wasn’t filed until 170 days after the denial. Agreeing with the lower court that it “remains a mystery to this day” why it took so long to file the notice, the high court stated there was no evidence of “good cause” to excuse the untimely filing of the notice of claim.
The high court noted that when asked by a school administrator whether the plaintiff intended to “file a claim”, the plaintiff’s father responded that they would not involve legal counsel “because of … [their] faith that the University would be willing to satisfy the medical and other related expenses . . . related to this incident without the need for legal counsel.”
Let Us Help You
It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Please pay my medical bills and lost wages because I slipped and fell on your property.’ Tort law is complex. For every general principle, there are exceptions and the facts are different in every case.
If you were injured in a slip and fall accident, call Fales & Fales, P.A., at (888) 526-9408 to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation. If you prefer email, contact the law firm online. We represent slip and fall clients in Lewiston, Auburn, and the surrounding areas of central and southern Maine. Contact us.