Attorney Melina McTigue Garland obtained a favorable ruling by the Massachusetts Appeals Court on behalf of a municipal defendant and a police officer in a matter arising from an alleged motor vehicle accident. In an unpublished decision, the Appeals Court affirmed the dismissal by the lower court based upon the plaintiff’s failure to meet the requirements for presentment for c. 258, §4 claims. This requirement mandates that a letter of presentment be received by an official authorized by statute to receive it within two (2) years of the loss. The court considered the exceptions to this rule de novo and ruled in favor of the municipal defendant. Attorney Garland successfully moved to dismiss the complaint against the driver of the vehicle under the Tort Claims Acts, M.G.L.c. 258 §1 and c. 258 §2, affirming that his employer is liable for any such act.
The plaintiff alleged that on January 20, 2015, she was struck by a police vehicle driven by an on-duty police officer, causing injury. Plaintiff made a claim with the municipal defendant for PIP benefits, and later brought suit against the municipal entity and the police officer alleging negligence. In the court below, Attorney Garland argued that the “complaint against the officer should be dismissed, as he was a public employee acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and is therefore immune from suit under c. 258 §2, and that suit against the municipal defendant should be dismissed as well based on the plaintiff’s failure to make presentment.” The plaintiff agreed to withdraw her claim against the officer, but argued that the proper municipal officials had knowledge of the incident and her alleged injuries, and that her suit against the municipality should proceed.
M.G.L.c. 258 §4 requires presentment be made in writing to the proper party within two years of the date of a loss, and requires a claimant to wait six months from the date of presentment before bringing suit. Plaintiff’s counsel acknowledged that presentment had not been made, but argued that an exception to the rule existed whereby “knowledge” of the claim may constitute presentment, and that his client was entitled to discovery to determine whether an official authorized by statute to receive presentment had such knowledge of the plaintiff’s claim. He argued that due to the nature of the incident, which was alleged to have involved the collision of a police vehicle, driven by an on-duty officer, with a pedestrian, the proper officials must have known of the incident.
The Appeals Court disagreed and concluded that the requirements of presentment under c. 258, §4 were not met and that the recognized exception wherein an official authorized to accept presentment has actual notice of a claim was not applicable. The Appeals Court agreed with the lower court judge, concluding that the presentment requirement must be strictly construed. The Appeals Court affirmed prior case law holding that “actual notice of a claim” and “knowledge of an incident” are not the same, and that a mere awareness on the part of an official that an incident occurred is insufficient to establish that a plaintiff is entitled to an exception to the presentment rule.