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Maryland Notice Requirement When Suing a Local Government Entity for Negligence

Stop Sign

In a recent case, a Maryland driver and passenger sued Dorothea Maynor, the driver of another car, for negligence. Maynor sued the mayor and City Council of Baltimore. The case arose when Maynor was driving in Baltimore City and entered an intersection without stopping because the stop sign was on the ground and not in the proper standing position. She hit a car driven by Agnes Stokes, who was driving with passenger Bertha Stokes.

The police who responded to the accident noted that the stop sign was on the ground. Maynor’s insurance company notified the City Solicitor of her potential claim under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA), which requires a claimant to file notice within 180 days of a tort that could result in a claim against a city. The LGTCA provides a remedy for members of the public who are injured by tortious acts of employees of local governments.

Maynor claimed that the stop sign was on the ground because of a previous car accident the City knew about. She claimed the City knew the stop sign was on the ground but didn’t bother to repair it. Meanwhile, Bertha Stokes filed a complaint against Agnes Stokes, Maynor, and the City.

The City moved for summary judgment, arguing Agnes Stokes, Bertha Stokes, and Maynor had failed to comply with the LGTCA’s notice requirement. The judge denied the motion on the grounds that the letter from Maynor’s insurance company was enough to inform the City of the claims. He also found that Bertha Stokes had good cause for not complying.

After the hearing, Agnes Stokes added claims against the City to her own complaint. The City moved for summary judgment against Agnes Stokes’ complaint. The judge denied the motion, again finding that Maynor’s letter put the City on notice.

At the end of trial, Maynor and Agnes Stokes moved for judgment, and these motions were granted. The jury only decided the City’s liability, and it returned a verdict for the claimants.

The City appealed. The City argued on appeal that the lower court had erred in finding that the driver and passenger had complied with the notice requirements by relying on the notice of property damage claim filed by Maynor. It also argued that the lower court had erred in finding that the driver had good cause to not comply with the notice requirement even though she didn’t present evidence of good cause, nor ask for a judicial waiver of the notice requirement.

The original driver filed a cross-appeal, asking if the trial court had erred in directing a verdict for Maynor and the passenger. The appellate court reversed.

The appellate court explained that neither Agnes nor Bertha Stokes had filed a Statement of Claim as to property damage with the City in the way that Maynor had. In order to maintain a civil action against a local government or its employees, an injured party needs to provide notice to a designated government official within 180 days of the injury.

In general, even when a plaintiff fails to strictly comply with the notice requirement, if he or she can demonstrate substantial compliance, he or she can proceed with the lawsuit. Substantial compliance means a plaintiff gives some kind of notice that provides timely notice of facts and circumstances giving rise to the claim and fulfills the purpose of the notice requirement, which is to give a local government notice of its possible liability. A plaintiff must expend some effort to provide notice.

In this case, the plaintiff tried to rely on a third-party’s notice (Maynor’s notice). The claimants had no relationship with State Farm such that it could give notice on their behalf. The Stokes plaintiffs argued that the State Farm letter referenced the police report, which identified them. However, they made no effort to comply with the notice provision, so it was error for the court to find they had substantially complied.

The court can waive the notice requirement if it finds: (1) excusable neglect or mistake, (2) serious physical or mental injury or a location outside Maryland, (3) inability to retain counsel for complex litigation, (4) ignorance of the statutory notice requirement, or (5) the government’s misleading statements. In this case, none of these factors existed. The plaintiffs had no good cause for failure to comply by which the court could waive the notice requirement. The case was remanded to the lower court for a new trial.

If you are hurt in an accident caused by somebody else’s negligence, you should consult with an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney as soon as possible. We can help evaluate all your options. Contact the attorneys of Steinhardt, Siskind and Associates at (866) 902-4111 or via our online form.

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