Question: How long do I have to file a tort claim?
Question Detail: I was severely injured in an accident at a city park. I broke my neck and was airlifted by helicopter; my condition was listed in critical condition. I spent a week in the ICU. I was hoping that I could manage the medical bills by myself, but am finding out I cannot return to work. The bills are mounting, many are past due and I wondered if I could ask the city that owns the park for assistance with this. Knowing now what I do, I’m starting to understand what pain and suffering damages are all about. I did check with city and county officials, but the city hall and county offices refuse to provide me with the tort claim form. What are my options?

Answer: Sorry to hear about your troubles, you (and your family) have a rough road ahead of you. Let me see if I can answer this one question you have about the tort claim form because you’ve provided only limited information and without more I really can’t give an opinion on the merits of any case against whichever entity owns the park. You said it’s a city park, but do you know that for sure? Have you checked the county assessor’s website for the specific owner? You should, I would have to, that would be the first thing I’d do, because establishing ownership is the first place to begin.

Then I’d check with the owner to determine who is in possession of the park and which person or corporation is in charge of managing the park. Possession can be different than ownership. The land may be leased to an entity or person who is not the actual owner.

Depending on who owns and manages the park the next step is to understand more about the facts of how you were injured. How you were injured (the accident) is important because a lawyer will need to examine the possible theories of liability (fault) that are so important to the success of your case. The theory of liability chosen, depends on the lawyer’s impression and litigation style. Depending on who the lawyer is the theory could be quite different. As time marches on and the testimony of witnesses develops along with physical evidence being discovered, the theory of liability could change. To establish a basic theory of liability requires a preservation of the evidence, so you should first see a lawyer forthwith. In other words don’t delay whatever it is you’re going to do, just do it and do it now.

But let us get to your question about a tort claim form, because it’s very important to being able to even file a claim. If this is a tort claim against the State of Iowa you would have to submit the proper tort claim form and follow the rules of the Iowa State Tort Claim Act. Again, I'm not saying it is the State of Iowa who owns the park, it may or may not be. If not the State of Iowa, then maybe a county or city or town could be the owner. If that’s the case then it’s the Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act that needs to be followed. There is a form for claims against the State of Iowa, but again I’m not sure there is a tort claim form for cities or counties in Iowa. If no form and if notice is required then a letter from a lawyer may be all that is needed. 

So what should you do? You need to sit down with an attorney, discuss the facts, explore your options and then investigate to preserve the evidence. Would you like to know about a couple of recent cases involving accidents in city parks?

There is an ongoing claim presently in Michigan and one a few years ago in Sioux City, Iowa. I've written about both on my blog. The Michigan case is, Slip Sliding Away, Watching Out While Sledding | Lombardi Law Firm and the Sioux City is discussed in that same post. I see Bob Tiefenthaler had pretty good success with a $2.75 million dollar settlement total. His client appears to be wheelchair bound which means either he’s a quadriplegic or a paraplegic. Both conditions are permanent, debilitating and a lifelong gig prohibiting work. On my site is also a summary of legal rules governing liability for recreational use of school facilities if you follow this link. It may be dated so be mindful of the date it was written, printed and posted. It will give you a reference to begin this journey you’re about to embark on. You need to move quickly.

Serious claims require diligence, meaning you shouldn’t sit around waiting for something to just happen. You need to take affirmative action yourself and see an attorney. If you’re still in the hospital, a rehab unit or nursing home most attorneys will visit you there to discuss the prospect of a claim and what needs to be done to preserve the claim.

Good luck and if we can help give us a call.

Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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