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NYC Stoplight Suit Highlights How to Sue Cities

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

A malfunctioning New York City traffic light is the focus of a potential personal-injury lawsuit. But laws about how to sue cities may stop the suit in its tracks.

A broken traffic signal gave green lights in all directions at a busy Bronx intersection in March 2011, the New York Post reports. A car and a cab crashed at the intersection, both facing a green light.

Jonathan Diaz, 31, was driving the car and suffered a spinal injury that left him disabled. Diaz now wants to sue the city for the four-way green light -- but a legal technicality has him seeing red.

Diaz can't file a broken traffic light lawsuit because he didn't file a government tort claim within 90 days of the crash, the Post reports. So what is a tort claim, and how does it relate to suing a city?

Most state laws limit a local government's liability for personal injuries. The legal process for suing a city begins with providing written notice in the form of a tort claim, within a certain time period after an injury.

Many cities provide standardized forms for tort claims and notices. After receiving notice of your claim, the city can begin settlement talks; or the city can reject your claim, clearing the way for your civil lawsuit.

Laws about how to sue cities are different, depending on location and your type of injury. You may want to consult a local attorney about the best way to proceed in your area.

In Jonathan Diaz's case, he missed New York City's 90-day window to file a claim notice about his broken traffic light-related injuries. But Diaz has an excuse: He didn't know the light was broken until after police later gave him a copy of the accident report.

Diaz, a father of three who's now on disability, has filed a petition asking the Bronx Supreme Court to waive the claim-notice requirement and allow him to sue the city. Until the court rules, Diaz's potential traffic light injury lawsuit has nowhere to go.

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