The family of a woman who died in 2017 after the Buckeye Valley Fire District vehicle she was being transported in was involved in an accident cannot sue for wrongful death because they waited too long to file a notice of claim against the district, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled last week.
In September 2018, Andrews’ son served a notice of claim against the district, offering to settle all potential negligence claims for $15 million. A notice of claim is required under Arizona Revised Statute 12-821 if someone intends to seek damages or reimbursement in state court against “a public entity, public school or public employee.”
A.R.S. 12-821 allows public bodies to possibly settle some claims without the expense of litigation for both sides.
Then in November 2018, just prior to the one year anniversary of the accident, Andrews’ son filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of himself and his mother’s other beneficiaries. But just weeks later, a Pinal County Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit because the son failed to serve the notice of claim within the statutory deadline of 180 days “after the cause of action accrues.”
A cause of action begins accruing, according to Arizona Revised Statute 12-821.01, “when the damaged party realizes he or she has been damaged and knows or reasonably should know the cause, source, act, event, instrumentality or condition that caused or contributed to the damage.”
On appeal, Andrews’ son contended the 180-day deadline should not have started counting down until several months after the accident when he learned the fire district is considered a public entity. He also contended the deadline clock should have been paused -or tolled- while he communicated with a claims adjuster for the District’s insurer.
However, on June 18 the court of appeals released its 3-0 decision which affirmed, or upheld, the ruling by the Pinal County judge. The 180-day deadline is set in statute, the appellate court noted, and judges do not have discretion to extend or waive the deadline except under very limited circumstances.
The decisions by the superior court judge and the appellate judges did not address the merits of the son’s lawsuit against the district. Only that he missed the statutory deadline to take legal action in connection to his mother’s death.