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Kleinke v. City of Ocean City

Decided: March 7, 1977.

BERNARD KLEINKE AND CAROL M. KLEINKE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF OCEAN CITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, JOHN DOE, AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Carton, Kole and Larner. The opinion of the court was delivered by Larner, J.A.D.

Larner

Plaintiffs appeal from an order denying them permission to file a late notice of claim against the City of Ocean City and the State of New Jersey pursuant to the applicable provision of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:8-9. The application was based upon the affidavit of Bernard Kleinke. Neither defendant presented any evidential material in opposition to the application, and in fact no one appeared on behalf of the City of Ocean City to oppose the application at the trial level. The court denied the application as to both defendants on the two-fold basis that the applicant failed to demonstrate sufficient reasons for failure to file the claim within the statutory 90-day period and that the public entities would be prejudiced by the delay.

At oral argument counsel for plaintiffs conceded that there was no factual basis for imposing liability against the State of New Jersey and consented to the dismissal of the appeal as to that entity. We shall therefore consider this appeal from the order as it applies to the City of Ocean City.

The Tort Claims Act requires that a notice of claim be filed with the public entity within 90 days after the accrual of the cause of action. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8. Plaintiff Bernard Kleinke was injured on July 8, 1975 while swimming on the public beach operated by Ocean City and proposes to allege negligence by the city in supervision of the beach bathers and surfers, as a result of which a body surfer crashed into him causing a severe fracture of the leg.

He did not file a notice of claim within 90 days but filed a notice of motion for filing of a late claim under ยง 9 of the statute on January 16, 1976. This section permits relaxation of the 90-day limitation for sufficient reasons as long as the public entity is not substantially prejudiced

thereby. N.J.S.A. 59:8-9; see Keller v. Somerset Cty. , 137 N.J. Super. 1, 5 (App. Div. 1975).

The affidavit accompanying plaintiffs' motion related that after administration of first aid on the beach Kleinke was immediately taken to Shore Memorial Hospital where x-rays revealed a fracture of the left leg. A hospital physician recommended surgery. Plaintiff, who was an Illinois resident visiting the New Jersey shore, decided to return to Chicago for consultation with a local physician. On July 10, 1975 he was admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, where he was placed in a "body cast." Thereafter an embolism developed which traveled into his lungs. Because of this complication he became "extremely ill and was close to death." The record reveals that he remained in the hospital until the beginning of September 1975, although he did not return to his work until January 1976.

Plaintiff is a patent lawyer practicing in Illinois. While recuperating at home he contacted a Chicago attorney on or about November 13, 1975, who thereupon forwarded the matter to an attorney practicing in Jersey City, New Jersey. After several inquiries made of the Jersey City attorney, the latter informed plaintiff's Chicago attorney that he was too far away from the venue of the cause of action and could not handle the matter. As a consequence the case was then forwarded to present counsel on January 9, 1976, who proceeded expeditiously to file the motion.

Plaintiff further stated in his affidavit that he was unaware of the provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, although the trial judge appears to have given some weight to the fact that plaintiff practiced patent law in Illinois and that Illinois has a similar Tort Claims Act provision.*fn1

We recognize that the grant or denial of permission to file a late claim within the limited period of one year from the accrual of the cause of action is a matter left to the discretion of a judge of the Superior Court and that his discretionary action will be sustained on appeal in the absence of a showing of abuse thereof.

Since the New Jersey Tort Claims Act was patterned after the California Tort Claims Act of 1963, reference to California precedents is appropriate. Report of the Attorney General's ...


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