Historically and as a matter of public policy, public entities are immune from suit pursuant to the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, however, creates limited exceptions to sovereign immunity. People are therefore permitted to sue for injuries but must comply with the strict requirements of the Tort Claim Act.
New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act requires that persons who have claims against a governmental entity or its employee notify the public entity within ninety days from the date the claim accrues. The notice must contain the name and address of the claimant, the date, place and circumstances of the occurrence, a general description of the injury, the damage or loss sustained, and the name of the public entity or the employees responsible. Each municipality may have its own tort claim notice form. Failure to provide notice is an absolute bar to later recovery against a governmental unit or its employees. It is therefore critical to ensure compliance with the notice provisions of the Tort Claim Act.
After notice of tort claim is submitted, the government is then permitted a six month review the claim before a lawsuit can be filed. A lawsuit can be filed upon the expiration of the six month period. However, not every injury gives rise to a cause of action that requires providing the municipality with notice and then waiting six months. For example, the Tort Claims Act does not apply to statutory claims such as those brought under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. However, because the Tort Claims Act will bar a covered but late claim, it is better to comply now than find out later you were wrong.