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Personal Injury Lawsuits Against the City of New York

Aerial View of Manhattan, Suing the City of New York

Suppose the city you lived or worked in played a role in injuring you or a loved one. For instance:

  • You were hit by a New York City-owned garbage truck
  • You were injured by a ceiling collapse in a poorly maintained municipal building owned by New York City
  • You were hurt on a New York City construction project
  • You were involved in a car accident caused by unsafe conditions on public roads

In cases like this, injury victims can potentially recover financial compensation from the City of New York through a personal injury lawsuit.

However, suing the city can be a very different process from suing a private company or an individual. For example, in cases against non-government parties, you have three years after the day of the accident to file a lawsuit. Against the city, this window is only one year and 90 days. You also need to take special steps within just 90 days of the accident to afford yourself an opportunity to sue the City of New York.

Need To Know:

  • You must file a notice of claim within 90 days of your accident
  • You must file your lawsuit within one year and 90 days of your accident
  • A lawyer with an advanced knowledge of city law is essential to winning your case

Suing New York City requires a litigant to satisfy very specific criteria.  These rules are in place, in part, because the city is open to constant litigation. It owns about 362 million square feet of property—more than any other entity in the metropolitan area—and employs over 330,000 people. As a result, the city can be held responsible for the many accidents that happen within its elaborate maze of systems.

At present, it is not easy to successfully bring a case against the city, and in some instances, it is or has been impossible to sue city governments. In the United States, a concept called “sovereign immunity” broadly protects government bodies from being sued. However, a 1980 Supreme Court Decision (Owen vs. City of Independence) made it possible to sue municipalities like New York City.

Lawsuits against the city have three major steps:

  1. The filing of a notice of claim
  2. A 50-H hearing
  3. The filing of a lawsuit

It is in your best interest to consult a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer who can guide you through this complex process.

In This Article:

What Departments/Agencies is the City Responsible For?

The NYC government is composed of various entities called “mayoral agencies.” To sue a mayoral agency means that you are suing the city. Every personal injury lawsuit against these agencies goes through the Office of the New York City Comptroller, which handles the city’s budget, including litigation decisions. Here is a full list of these agencies:

  • Fire Department/Emergency Medical Service
  • Police Department
  • Sanitation Department
  • Department of Buildings
  • Taxi and Limousine Commission
  • Department of Transportation (Ferries, Highways, Parking Violations Bureau)
  • New York City Community Colleges (2-year colleges)
  • Department of Corrections
  • Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Dept of Social Services/Human Resources Administration
  • Department of Finance
  • Department of Environmental Protection
  • Housing Preservation and Development
  • Department of General Services
  • Office of the Comptroller
  • Office of the Mayor

Which Public Agencies are Separate from the City?

Other familiar public services in New York City are not actually covered by the city when it comes to lawsuits. For example, the subways are run by the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA). The NYCTA has its own legal team, and you can sue the NYCTA without suing the City of New York. Depending on the case, the city may be sued in addition to the NYCTA, but they are completely separate defendants under the law. Such entities are called “non-mayoral agencies.”

Here is a list of non-mayoral agencies in NYC:

  • NYC Transit Authority
  • NYC Housing Authority
  • NYC Department of Education
  • Health and Hospitals Corporation
  • MTA Bridges and Tunnels Office

Filing a Notice of Claim

To sue both mayoral and non-mayoral agencies, you or your lawyer need to determine whether a notice of claim is required.  This can be done by carefully reviewing General Municipal Law §50-e.  If required, you must file a notice of claim within 90 days of your accident. A notice of claim contains basic information about the accident, such as:

  • Your name and address
  • Location, date, and time of the accident
  • What the city/agency allegedly did to cause the accident
  • Any damages caused by the accident

For all lawsuits against a mayoral agency, you should promptly file a notice of claim with the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

If you miss the 90-day deadline, you can ask the court for permission to file a late notice of claim. This is far from a given, and even if the court grants permission to file a late notice of claim, the city may still move to dismiss your case because you did not file the notice in the proper time frame.

In some situations, it may be possible to file a notice of claim within 90 days of the date the injury is discovered, if this is later than the date the accident occurred. To best avoid complications with your case, it is important to take action as soon as possible.

To sue non-mayoral agencies (NYCHA, NYCTA, etc.), you need to file a notice of claim with these specific agencies rather than the Comptroller’s Office. The 90-day deadline still applies. Here is an example of the NYCTA’s claim form.

Some cases involve both mayoral and non-mayoral agencies. For instance, a defective NYCHA building (non-mayoral agency) might also involve the Department of Buildings (mayoral agency). This may trigger the need to file a notice of claim with the city and the New York City Housing Authority.  An experienced personal injury lawyer will quickly determine which organizations might be part of a case, and help you file the appropriate paperwork on time.

50-H Hearing

After you file a notice of claim, the city will usually require you to attend a meeting called a 50-H hearing. In this hearing, an examiner asks questions, the witness gives answers under oath, and a court reporter creates a record by recording the questions, answers, and any other conversation.

The witness in a 50-H hearing is the person who filed the notice of claim. A witness’s attorney should carefully prepare them for a 50-H hearing so that the witness understands the types of questions that might be asked. These can include details about the accident, medical care, and how their injuries have affected their life.

If desired, the city must request a 50-H hearing within 60 days of receiving a notice of claim.

Filing the Lawsuit

You can file a lawsuit only after your notice of claim is filed and your 50-H hearing is held. The deadline to file a lawsuit against the city is firm: within one year and 90 days of the accident. Unlike a notice of claim, a plaintiff can almost never request a late filing.

Is My Case Stronger If the City Knew About the Hazard?

Hear how Partners Stephen J. Murphy and David L. Scher handled a case against the City of New York for a client who suffered a serious brain injury.

Yes. Many cases require you to prove that the city had written notice of a hazard. Written notice can take different forms; some are simpler than others. For example, letters to city council are a clear-cut form of written notice. However, phone calls to city hotlines (such as 311 complaints) cannot always be used; courts have debated whether or not 311 complaints constitute written notice.

In one case that Block O’Toole & Murphy settled for $8.8 million, a collision took place at an intersection where a stop sign was completely masked by trees. The city was responsible for maintaining this foliage. Prior to the accident, a series of complaints had been filed, and a municipal worker was called to address the problem. However, he cut down the wrong tree, and the obscured stop sign ultimately led to this tragic accident. Our client was a pedestrian who suffered life-altering brain damage as a result of the car crash.

The city’s defense team argued that the driver should have seen the painted stop line in the street, even if the stop sign was hidden. In their investigation, the attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy found letters people had written to city council members about the unsafe condition of the sign. These letters revealed the high level of concern surrounding the obstructed stop sign and its risks, confirming that the painted stop line was insufficient for public safety. We successfully argued that the city had been notified of the hazard, making it their responsibility to fix.

Suing New York State, New York City, or Both

Some cases involve both the city and the state. Generally, this is based on two factors: where the accident happened and where the plaintiff lives.

Regardless of where you live (even out of the state or country), you can pursue a lawsuit against New York City if you were injured within the city. Typically, city cases are handled at the Brooklyn Supreme Court.

If you live elsewhere in New York State, you may have the right to bring another claim. For instance, a resident of Nassau County who was injured in Brooklyn can also sue the state of New York. These cases go to the New York State Court of Claims, where all lawsuits against the state unfold.

Fortunately, city and state judges coordinate so that each case can be tried efficiently. Most often, the city case is done first, followed by the state case.

In one auto accident case, our firm found that both the City of New York and New York State were responsible for black ice on a road which led to the tragic death of a driver. Because the city failed to remove the ice or put up warning signs, our lawyers secured a settlement of $2,000,000 from the city. Additionally, the State of New York had failed to address a persistent flooding issue on the highway. As a result, we achieved a $1,500,000 settlement from the state in a separate case.

Litigating city and state cases takes expertise, but no injury victim should be afraid to sue a government entity. Our firm broke a record for the highest pain and suffering verdict ever achieved in the Court of Claims.

What if a Private Company Was Involved?

In some cases, the city can be a co-defendant with a private company. In a case we settled for $1.75 million, our client was a union laborer who fell while working for Con Edison on a road in Brooklyn. Both the City of New York and Con Edison were at fault for putting him in a situation where the road underneath him collapsed.

In a case like this, co-defendants weigh their relative responsibilities for causing the accident. Depending on the details, these defendants may try to blame each other, rather than the plaintiff.

In the past, the city was responsible for all of the sidewalks in New York. While some sidewalks are still maintained by the city today, private property owners such as homeowners and commercial businesses have become more frequently involved in lawsuits involving sidewalks.

What if I’m a City Employee?

The following municipal employees can sue the city for injuries:

  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Sanitation workers
  • Teachers

These workers can bring a lawsuit if they can establish that the city created or failed to solve a safety violation. In other words, if your work environment contributed to your injury in some way within one of these professions, you may have a case.

If you are a city employee not on this list and you were injured on the job, you should be able to collect workers’ compensation. Firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, and teachers do not have access to standard workers’ compensation. Therefore, for this particular group of city employees, suing the city is a vital path to financial recovery after a work-related accident.

Special Protections for Emergency Vehicles

In New York, it is harder to sue the government if you have been injured by an active emergency vehicle such as a police car. The New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law is designed to make these emergency vehicles (and, by extension, the city or state) less vulnerable to lawsuits. In general, this only applies to certain authorized vehicles: ambulances, police vehicles, fire vehicles, and corrections vehicles. A driver responding to an emergency in their private car is not protected by this law.

Lawsuits against these emergency vehicles require more proof of wrongdoing. For instance, an NYPD police officer pursuing a felony robbery might run a red light and injure a pedestrian. To successfully sue the city and its employee (the police officer), the pedestrian’s lawyers must prove that the officer acted with “reckless disregard.” This term describes when someone intentionally puts others in harm’s way, despite knowing the risks. Reckless disregard is tricky to prove because it is defined by intent and a conscious lack of care. For most lawsuits, you only need to prove that the defendant(s) acted with negligence, which does not factor in intent. This makes negligence simpler to litigate than reckless disregard.

In a case we settled for $1.25 million, a city truck was removing snow (an emergency task) when it rear-ended a driver who was stopped at a stoplight. Despite the challenge of proving reckless disregard, Block O’Toole & Murphy was able to argue that the snow plow driver bore responsibility for the accident.

Our Record of Lawsuits Against New York City

Legal action against the city of New York can seem like an overwhelming journey. However, an experienced attorney will carefully and confidently guide you through every step. Block O’Toole & Murphy has successfully handled cases against the city that span construction, motor vehicle, and premises liability accidents. Some results we have delivered in cases against the city include:

  • $8,800,000 settlement for a pedestrian who suffered catastrophic injuries from a car collision caused by unsafe signage that the city failed to address
  • $4,750,000 settlement for an off-duty NYCTA worker who was struck by a city-owned sanitation truck while walking his dog
  • $4,000,000 settlement for a 42-year-old who was hit by a vehicle in Queens due to hazardous conditions on roads maintained by the city
  • $3,500,000 settlement for an NYCTA bus driver who was injured by a city-owned sanitation truck that rear-ended his bus
  • $3,400,000 settlement for a man who was hit by an NYC Parks Department vehicle in Central Park
  • $3,000,000 settlement for a driver injured by a city-operated snow plow in Brooklyn
  • $2,800,000 settlement for a NYCHA employee who needed multiple surgeries after an NYPD police car struck him on a sidewalk
  • $2,558,000 settlement for the widow of a 31-year-old tragically killed in an auto accident linked to a traffic signal that the city had designed poorly
  • $2,100,000 settlement for a cyclist harmed by a city-owned garbage truck in Queens
  • $2,000,000 settlement for the family of a driver wrongfully killed after his car hit a patch of black ice, which the city should have removed

To speak with one of our serious injury attorneys today, call 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form online. We serve New York and New Jersey.

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