The Right Address

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Q: In front of my local church, the sidewalk is not even.  Four months ago, my pastor wrote a letter to the Town Engineer, complaining that the sidewalk needed repair.  Today, I fell.  I want to sue.  My friend says I can’t, unless the Town already had ‘written notice’.

A: Virtually every town has a law that a civil action may not be maintained against the town for personal injuries sustained by reason of a sidewalk unless written notice of the specific location and defect by a person with first-hand knowledge had previously been given to some designated person, for example, the Town Clerk.

The purpose of a ‘written notice’ provision is to place the town on notice that there is a defective condition on publicly-owned property.  If left unattended, the defect might result in injury.  This ensures that the town, which is not expected to know about every crack or defect within its borders, will not be held responsible for injury from a defect unless given an opportunity to repair it.

Our courts uphold these provisions.  A town is permitted to limit its ‘duty of care’ over its streets and sidewalks by imposing liability only for those defects or hazardous conditions which its officials have been actually notified exist, at a specified location.

Even though the Engineer may be responsible for fixing such defects, he or she is not a proper recipient of the notice, unless designated in the statute.  To put teeth in a letter to the town, always address it to the person named in the statute.

Sometimes, the designated person and the actual addressee of the letter have a practice of sharing records.  Then, a skilled attorney may be able to make a winning argument for waiver of strict compliance with the prior written notice law.  The theory will be that notice to one is the same as notice to the other.  Success is not guaranteed, but this can occasionally be worth a try.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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