Public Entity Tort Claims in Arizona: Notice of Claim
1) Consider Hiring an AttorneyClaims against public entities and public employees can be very difficult and time intensive for several reasons. First, there are strict rules that must be followed in presenting your claim that are fairly technical. If these rules are not followed, you may lose the ability to present your claim forever. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to guide your case through these rules to preserve your claim.
Second, a public entity has significant resources and access to legal advice that an unrepresented party simply does not have. As such, it is likely that you will be on an uneven playing field with any public entity or employee. An attorney will help level that playing field in asserting your case.
If you decide to proceed without an attorney, below are some steps to help you avoid losing your claim.
2) Determine when your loss occured.Arizona law allows an individual 180 calendar days to file a "Notice of Claim" against any public entity or employee. Further, a lawsuit against a public entity or employee must be filed within one (1) year from the date of loss. These time lines are much shorter than claims against a private company or individual. Failure to comply with either deadline typically means the claim is lost forever. It is therefore very important to determine the date on which the loss occurred so you can know when the claim must be filed.
Many times, determining when the loss occurred is very easy (as in the case of a car accident. However, other cases can be more complex. Determining the actual date of loss can be very fact intensive. If you have any question about when your loss occurred, you should discuss the facts of your case immediately with an attorney.
3) Determine Which Public Entities Are At FaultYou should identify which public entity or employee is at fault for your loss. Arizona law only allows an individual to assert claims against "juridical entities" - entities that can sue and be sued. Many state agencies or departments are not juridical entities, and the proper defendant is the state itself.
For instance, a police department is not a juridical entity. If a claim were asserted against a police department, the proper defendant would be the city or county that manages the police department. If you have any questions as to who is a proper defendant in your case, you should consult with an attorney.
Further, you should also identify the individuals who may be responsible for your case. Under Arizona law, any Notice of Claim or lawsuit must specifically name the public employees who contributed to your loss.
4) Drafting your Notice of ClaimNext, you should draft your Notice of Claim. The notice should include your name, address, and any claim number or other information that will help the entity identify your case. It should be addressed to all persons/entities identified in step 2. Your Notice of Claim must also contain the following items:
1) The Factual Basis of The Claim: The notice of claim must provide sufficient information to allow the public entity to assess the basis of liability. You should include facts that show that the public entity/employee is at fault for your loss. You should also include facts about your damages, including medical treatment (if any), economic damages, and general damages (such as pain and suffering).
2) Amount For Which the Case Can Be Settled: You MUST include an amount that you are willing to accept to settle the claim. In presenting this amount, do not use any qualifiers or conditions.
You should also attach any supporting documentation or records.
5) Serving the Notice of ClaimUnder Arizona law, the Notice of Claim should be received upon the public entity within 180 calendar days from the date of loss. A Notice of Claim CAN be mailed. It is highly recommended that, if you choose to mail the Notice of Claim, you do so with a certified mailing to verify receipt.
A better practice is to hire a process server to personally serve the Notice of Claim. This can be costly, but it prevents a defense that the Notice of Claim was never received.
The Notice of Claim should be served on any public employees involved in your case that contributed to causing your loss. It should also be served on the public entity. You may need to research who can accept service on behalf of a specific public entity, as public entity is different. If you have any questions about who to serve with the Notice of Claim, you should consult with an attorney.
Under Arizona law, you must wait 60 days after serving your Notice of Claim before you can file any lawsuit.