Posted by Bill Sandweg.
Do you have a claim against the state of Arizona or a city or any other governmental entity or one of their employees? If you do, the Arizona state legislature has an unpleasant surprise in store for you. Rather than the two years that every other citizen of Arizona has in which to make a claim, you have only 180 days in which to file a notice of claim against the state, municipality, entity or employee. Miss that 180 day deadline and you lose your right to bring a claim.
The state is the modern-day substitute for the king. In ancient times, the king could do no wrong and, no matter what the king did to you, you had no remedy. That ancient rule became the basis for the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which says you cannot sue the state without its permission. While all states have waived the doctrine of sovereign immunity to one degree or another, they don’t like it and they have put up as many roadblocks to these suits as they can. The requirement for a notice of claim in Arizona is one of these roadblocks and it is a very effective one.
I have lost count of the number of clients who have come to me with claims against the state or a municipality but who have arrived at my office more than 180 days after the event giving rise to the claim. They had no idea that they needed to move almost immediately after they were harmed or lose their right to sue. It is an expensive lesson for them but there is nothing I can do. The notice of claim statute has done it’s job in cutting off their right to sue.
Arizona’s notice of claim statute, A.R.S. §12-821.01, does not just allow any old notice to satisfy its requirements. The notice must be detailed. It must set forth the facts upon which the claim is based, the amount for which the claim can be settled and the facts supporting that amount. It must also be served on the employee and on people authorized to accept service of process on behalf of the entity. If any one of these very stringent requirements is missed, the notice of claim is ineffective and the victim loses the right to pursue the claim. The casebooks for Arizona are littered with cases in which a notice of claim was filed but did not meet each and every one of the stringent requirements of the statute and the case was dismissed. This is trouble for the lawyer filing the notice of claim, who usually ends up being sued over the failed notice of claim.
Filing a successful notice of claim is only half the battle. If the notice of claim is denied, and they almost all are, you must file your suit within one year of the date of the injury. Again, this is a year less than every other citizen has to bring a similar claim against a private person or entity.
Don’t fall victim to Arizona’s notice of claim statute. If you believe you’ve been injured by the state, a municipality, a school board or an employee of one of those entities, see a lawyer immediately. Time is passing and the lawyer will need time to investigate your claim, to collect the facts and to prepare and serve the notice of claim. The more time you can give the lawyer to accomplish these tasks, the more likely it will be that your notice of claim will be valid and you will be able to pursue your claim.