In New Jersey, as in every state, if you've been injured in an accident where someone else was at fault, you have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. When you are injured by the negligence of a government employee or agency, however, getting compensation can be more complicated. In a situation like this in New Jersey, you probably need to file a claim in accordance with the strict procedure laid out in the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Read on for the details.
The New Jersey Tort Claims Act can be found at Title 59 of the New Jersey Statutes. Generally speaking, the act preserves the common-law rule of "sovereign immunity," which prevents individuals or companies from bringing claims against the government. However, Section 59:2-2 creates specific exceptions to this rule. The exceptions allow people who are injured by the negligence of a public entity to bring a claim against the government in some cases.
Section 59:2-2 states that public entities are liable for injuries an employee causes "within the scope of his employment in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." In other words, if you could bring the claim against the person who injured you were they a private citizen, you can bring the claim against the public entity.
Here are some examples of situations in which this rule might apply:
However, bear in mind that the New Jersey Tort Claims Act limits damages in a few key ways. For instance, Section 59:9-2(e) says that if you have insurance that covers your injury, the amount you receive (or could receive) from your insurer is deducted from any damages award you receive from the state.
Likewise, in order to receive pain and suffering damages as part of your claim, you must meet the requirements of Section 59:9-2, which says that pain and suffering damages will not be awarded unless "permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment" have occurred and "medical treatment expenses are in excess of $3,600." If your case does not meet this requirement, you can still seek damages for losses like medical expenses and property damage, but you will be barred from seeking damages for pain and suffering.
Section 59:8-4 of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act says that a claim must include:
The State of New Jersey provides claim forms on its website. The first step to filing a claim is to fill out one of these claim forms and submit it to the Tort and Contract Unit, Bureau of Risk Management, New Jersey Department of the Treasury. The address is provided on the form.
Likewise, many local and municipal governments in New Jersey also provide forms and instructions for filing claims against the government. For example, the City of Newark provides a claim form on its website.
The time limit for filing a claim against the state government in New Jersey is only 90 days from the date of the accident. If you do not file a claim form within this time, you lose your right to have the claim considered by the state. Once the form is filed, the state may take up to 90 days to accept or reject it.
In some cases, a court may agree to extend the time to file a claim for up to one year. However, this decision is made on a case-by-case basis.