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$5M Scooter-Injury Suit Dismissed on Technicality

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 26, 2013 11:15 AM

A Massachusetts man who fell from a police scooter had his injury suit tossed out of court Monday because of a technicality.

Reyes Cotto, 79, was in a coma for almost two weeks after tumbling from a police scooter in 2009, incurring more than $400,000 in medical bills. Cotto's $5 million lawsuit against the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, alleged that a police officer had negligently allowed him to use the police scooter without a helmet, reports the Lowell Sun.

Why was Cotto's suit dismissed?

Notice Requirement Doomed Scooter Suit

On its face, Cotto's scooter-injury lawsuit presented a fairly compelling case for compensation. Cotto had received significant medical care for his injuries, totaling $447,603 in medical expenses and even given his age, had a sympathetic claim for pain and suffering damages.

The problem with Cotto's claims wasn't the evidence. Rather, it was that the scooter victim had failed to follow the legal procedure to sue the city.

Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, an injury suit against a public employer (like the City of Lowell) can be barred if the victim doesn't send the public entity a "letter of presentment" within two years of the injury. It also requires the injured party to wait six months after sending the letter before filing suit.

While Cotto did send Lowell a letter of presentment in November 2010, he went ahead and filed his injury suit in January 2011, just three months after giving the city notice.

Since the suit did not follow Massachusetts law for suing a public entity, Judge Kenneth V. Desmond Jr. dismissed Cotto's claims.

Lesson to Be Learned About Suing the Government

While Cotto's case is an unfortunate one, it also presents a poignant lesson for anyone planning to sue the government.

If you're planning to sue the police, in almost all cases, you will need to first file a tort claim form with the state or local government. Many states have passed laws which prevent any civil suit from proceeding in court without the government being given sufficient notice and time to respond.

For example, in order to sue the New York Police Department for false arrest, a potential plaintiff needs to first file a claim with the city Comptroller within 90 days of the arrest.

If you still have questions about a potential claim, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.

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