By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Dec 18 (Reuters) - Governor Andrew Cuomo has
approved legislation designed to streamline the process of
filing lawsuits against municipalities and other government
entities in New York.
State law requires individuals intending to sue government
entities for any tort -- such as a slip-and-fall or a
malpractice at a public hospital -- to file a notice of claim to
alert a potential defendant of an impending lawsuit. Currently,
they must be filed in the county in which an alleged incident
The bill signed Monday will allow plaintiffs to file notices
of claim with the secretary of state in Albany, who would then
notify defendants. Most of the bill's provisions take effect in
The proposal passed both houses of the legislature with
relative ease, with a 113-13 vote in the Democrat-dominated
Assembly and a 44-16 vote in the Republican-led Senate.
In a four-sentence memo, Cuomo said the law would "bring
greater uniformity" to the process of filing suits against local
He was approving the law, he said, because the legislature
had agreed both to fix "technical errors" that still existed in
the legislation. The legislature will also amend the bill to
ensure that local governments and public authorities will not
face shortened time periods within which to investigate claims
if the secretary of state faces delays in notifying potential
Municipal groups, including the Association of Counties and
Conference of Mayors, said earlier this year that the measure
could create a backlog in the secretary of state's office,
resulting in unnecessary and costly delays.
Peter Baynes, the executive director of the New York
Conference of Mayors, said on Tuesday that he was encouraged
that Cuomo had "highlight(ed) the deficiencies we raised with
this legislation" and that NYCOM would work with state lawmakers
on the amendment to the bill.
The legislation also provides for a uniform 90-day filing
deadline for all notices of claim, regardless of the type of
government entity involved.
A provision that would have extended the 90-day deadline if
the secretary of state committed an error was removed from an
earlier version of the bill, according to Assemblywoman Helene
Weinstein, who sponsored the measure.
Supporters of the proposal, including the state Bar
Association and the Trial Lawyers Association, say the current
process of filing notices of claim is confusing and often leads
to meritorious cases being tossed out on technicalities.
For example, a person injured after falling on a sidewalk in
Manhattan may believe the sidewalk is owned by New York City,
when in fact it could be owned by the Port Authority, the
Battery Park City Authority or another public corporation. By
the time the error is caught, it may be too late to file a
notice of claim against the proper party.
"By providing for uniform procedures and time limits ...
this bill will eliminate expensive and time-consuming litigation
over unnecessarily complex issues of procedure," Michael Jaffe,
the president of the Trial Lawyers Association, wrote in a memo
to members late Monday.
The secretary of state's office did not respond to requests
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