Making an Injury Claim Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act

Filing an injury claim against a public entity in New Jersey means playing by the unique set of rules set out in the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 5/30/2024

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. But what if your injury was caused by the negligence of a government employee or agency? Let's say you got into a car accident with a city employee who was on duty, or you had a slip and fall in a state-owned building, for example.

In situations like these, in order to get compensation for your injuries and other losses, you'll probably need to file a claim under the unique rules laid out in the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Read on for the details.

What Is the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

States like New Jersey are entitled to "immunity" from most kinds of liability, meaning you can't typically file a lawsuit against the state government. But every state has partially given up or "waived" this immunity by passing laws that lay out when and how the government might be held liable for harm caused by its own negligence, or by the negligence of a government employee who's carrying out their duties.

The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, which can be found at Title 59 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, is one of these laws. It lets people file claims for compensation when the government might be to blame for an injury or for property damage, but claim-filing procedures and strict deadlines must be followed.

    What Is (And Isn't) Covered By the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

    The Act lays out a pretty broad definition of when the government might be liable for injuries and other harm, stating that a public entity can be liable "to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances" any time someone is harmed by a public employee who acted (or failed to act) within the scope of their employment. (New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:2-2).

    In other words, if you could bring the claim against the person who injured you if they were a private citizen, you can bring the claim against the public entity under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. So, a traffic accident with a city bus or a slip and fall in a state-owned building are among the many kinds of incidents that could give rise to a claim under the Act.

    But there are a number of situations where the government can't be liable, according to the Act, including injuries and other harm allegedly caused by:

    • the effect of weather conditions on streets and highways
    • the issuance, denial, suspension, or revocation of (or failure to issue, deny, suspend or revoke) a permit, license, or other official authorization
    • failure to inspect property (or negligence in connection with the inspection of property)
    • failure to provide supervision of recreational facilities
    • the exercise of "judgment or discretion" given to the government entity under the law
    • judicial action or inaction, and
    • adoption of (or failing to adopt) a law.

    Does the New Jersey Tort Claims Act Apply to Local Governments?

    Yes. According to the Act, a "public entity" includes:

    • the state of New Jersey
    • any county or municipality (such as a city) in the state, and
    • any public authority, public agency, political subdivision or public body in the state.

    This broad definition of "public entity" means if you think any government entity in New Jersey (whether at the state or local level) is responsible for your injury or other harm, you'll use the procedures laid out in the New Jersey Tort Claims Act to try to get compensation.

    What Information Is Included In a New Jersey Tort Claims Act Claim?

    A claim made under the Act must include:

    • the claimant's name and address
    • the address where the claimant would like claim-related notices to be sent
    • the date, place and other circumstances of the incident giving rise to the claim
    • a general description of the injury, damage or loss (to the extent these details are known by the claimant at the time of filing)
    • the names of any public entity and employee who's alleged to have caused the injury, damage or loss (if known), and
    • the dollar amount claimed (as of the time of filing).

    The claimant (or someone acting on the claimant's behalf) also needs to be sign the claim.

    The Act lets public entities produce their own claim forms and make them available to the public (online, for example), and a lot of leeway is given to the government when it comes to requesting additional information and actions from the claimant. For example, the claimant might be asked to:

    • produce itemized health care provider bills and reports on the nature and extent of the claimant's injuries, any resulting disabilities, prognosis for recovery, and any diminished earning capacity
    • attend a physical or mental examination by a health care provider employed by the public entity, and
    • permit the public entity to inspect "all appropriate records" relating to the claim, including income tax returns, medical records, and employment records.

    New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:8-6.

    Where Do I File a Claim Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

    If you're making a claim against the state or one of its agencies, you can usually file it with the Attorney General's office, or with the New Jersey Department of Treasury's Bureau of Risk Management (which provides an online claim form and instructions for claimants). The Bureau of Risk Management also suggests (but doesn't require) that you send the form and any supporting documentation via certified mail, so you'll have proof that the Bureau received it.

    Claims against cities, counties, and other local public entities should be filed directly with those entities, according to New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:8-7. Do an online search to see if the local entity has claim forms and other instructions available on its official website.

    How Long Do I Have to File a Claim Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

    The Act says that a claim for injury, death, or damage to property must be filed 90 days from the date of the incident. Failure to get the claim filed within this 90-day window almost certainly means "the claimant shall be forever barred from recovering against a public entity or public employee," according to New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:8-8.

    Are There Limits on Compensation Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

    Yes. The New Jersey Tort Claims Act limits how much compensation ("damages") a claimant can receive, in several key ways.

    No "Pain and Suffering" In Most New Jersey Tort Claims Act Cases

    Compensation for "pain and suffering" isn't available under the Act (New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:9-2(d)) except:

    • when the claim involves permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement, or dismemberment, and
    • the claimant's medical treatment expenses are in excess of $3,600.

    This is a significant limitation, because in terms of dollar figures, pain and suffering damages often make up the largest category of an injury claimant's compensation. Learn more about how pain and suffering works in a personal injury case.

    Most Available Insurance Benefits Will Be Deducted From the Claimant's Award

    New Jersey Rev. Stat. section 59:9-2(e) says that if you have insurance that covers the incident giving rise to the claim, the amount you receive (or could receive) from your insurer will be deducted from any damages award you receive from the public entity. One exception is life insurance benefits, which usually won't be deducted under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act if the claim is over a wrongful death.

    What Happens After I File My Claim Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act?

    Once you file your claim under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, the public entity will investigate the underlying incident, determine whether or not a government employee was indeed negligent, and either pay the claim (through settlement) or deny it.

    If your claim is denied, or if six months have passed since you filed your claim and you haven't heard anything back from the public entity, you can move forward with filing a lawsuit against the government, just as you would file a lawsuit against a private party. Learn more about proving fault in personal injury cases.)

    Under the Act, this lawsuit must be brought within two years of the incident that led to the claim. Special deadline exceptions are made for claimants who are minors, or who are legally incapacitated.

    Do You Need an Attorney for a New Jersey Tort Claims Act Case?

    Filing a New Jersey Tort Claims Act case can be tricky, especially when you're trying to get all your information together before the 90-day deadline. Things can get contentious if the public entity wants you to attend a medical examination or allow the inspection of your personal records.

    You can always try handling the claim process yourself, at least initially, and consider handing things off to a lawyer if your run into potential roadblocks. Or you can put your case in the hands of an experienced legal professional right off the bat. Learn more about:

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