When filing a lawsuit in Massachusetts’ civil court system, the alleged at-fault party must be notified properly. When the at-fault party is an employee of a company, notifying the right person can get complicated. A recent Appeals Court case reviews the notice requirement under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L. c. 258. In this case, a woman was injured by a city bus as she was entering another vehicle. She filed suit two years after the accident, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) answered, raising the affirmative defense that she did not properly give notice under G.L. c. 258, § 4. The trial court overruled the second motion by the MBTA to grant summary judgment in its favor, and the MBTA appealed.
G.L. c. 258, § 4 requires that notice of any tort claim against a public employer be presented to its executive officer within two years after the cause of action arises. Under the MBTA, this would have been the general manager and the rail and transit administrator. In this case, the injured woman sent notice of her claim to the “Claims Department” but not to the executive officer. The MBTA appealed, arguing that the notice did not comply with G.L. c. 258, § 4. The trial judge disagreed. The motion was overruled, the judge determining that there was notice.
Both parties agreed on the occurrence of several events. They agreed that the injured person’s attorney at the time sent out timely notice of the claim and that the injured person didn’t attempt to personally communicate during the two-year period after the accident and didn’t know what other communication may have occurred between her attorney and the MBTA during this time. The MBTA agreed that it had made a settlement offer to the injured person and other plaintiffs and that the other plaintiffs accepted their offers and settled their cases. The court determined that the MBTA had actual notice, based on the actions of the claims department. The court ruled that it fell under the “actual notice” exception, which overlooks a deficiency when there’s evidence the executive officer did know, thus fulfilling the presentment requirement.