LEGAL MATTERS: Getting Injured on the Street
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
In that the property owner adjacent to the sidewalk may not be liable for the injuries in many instances, it is particularly important that care be paid to the special provisions required to make a claim against a municipality whenever a sidewalk fall injury is suffered.
While the general statute of limitations for tort injuries of three years applies to most claims against cities and towns in Rhode Island, there are several special deadline and notice requirements that are particular to cities and towns that can effectively end your chance of recovery if you don’t meet them.
If the road or sidewalk is to blame
If you suffer an injury or damage as a result of a defect in a public road or sidewalk, you can make a claim against the city or town under RI GEN LAW 45-15-8. However, you are required to put the municipality on notice within 60 days of the injury pursuant to RI GEN LAW 45-15-9. The notice must state the time, place and cause of the injury or damage with such specificity that the municipality may make an independent investigation of the incident.
For instance, the Supreme Court two years ago tossed out a complaint where the plaintiff described the defective sewer grate that caused her injury as “’at or near’ a street that was 1,249 feet long and had 18 sewer grids.”
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In order to meet this standard, in our practice we routinely describe in detail the location of the defect measured from known, fixed points. A photograph depicting the defect can be attached to the notice for clarity purposes. Other documents may be attached for clarity such as witness statements, medical records and bills and lost wage records. The notice can be filed with the town or city clerk’s office.
Pursuant to RI GEN LAW 45-15-10, the period for filing the notice can, in some instances, be extended if it is impossible for the injured person to provide timely notice due to physical or mental incapacity.
Another provision of state law applicable to any claim against a municipality is RI GEN LAW 45-15-5. This provision requires that any person making a claim against a municipality provide the municipality with a particular account of the claim. If the claim is not satisfied within 40 days after presentment, then the person is allowed to file a lawsuit against the municipality These claims are also filed in the town or city clerk’s office.
If done properly, in the appropriate circumstances, the notice required by RI GEN LAW 45-15-9 can be combined with the claim required by RI GEN LAW 45-15-5.
The foregoing is offered for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.
Susan G. Pegden is a litigation associate with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins in Providence. She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rhode Island Association of Justice (RIAJ) and a member of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association.
Sean P. Feeney is a partner with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins. He is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Illinois and Wisconsin. Mr. Feeney is a former special counsel to the City of Providence, military prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California.
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