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Estate of James McGrath v. North Jersey District Water Supply Commission

Decided: October 17, 1986.

ESTATE OF JAMES MCGRATH, JR., BY HIS EXECUTRIX, JEAN MCGRATH, AND 1200 OTHER INJURED RESIDENTS OF THE PASSAIC RIVER BASIN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NORTH JERSEY DISTRICT WATER SUPPLY COMMISSION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Saunders, J.s.c.

Saunders

OPINION

Plaintiffs have filed Motions requesting an Order declaring that plaintiffs' Notices of Claims filed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:8-1 et seq. to be timely filed and to permit the filing of late Notices of Claims pursuant to N.J.S.A. 58:8-9 on behalf of 26 plaintiffs. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint by reason of plaintiffs' failure to comply with the Tort Claims Act. Defendants have alternatively requested permission for discovery on this issue.

These motions present two issues for resolution.

1. Have plaintiffs, who have filed Notices of Claims, substantially complied with the requirements of the Tort Claims Act?

2. Should plaintiffs, who have not filed Notices of Claims within 90 days, be granted leave to file late Notices pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:8-9?

This case and the numerous claims filed herein arise out of record floods that occurred in northern New Jersey in the spring of 1984. Extensive rainfall fell on this part of the State on April 5, 6 and 7 resulting in flooding throughout the Passaic River Basin. Additional rainfall occurred the end of May and early June, 1984 creating additional flooding.

Major highways as well as local roads were impassable and closed for many days. Substantial portions of the municipalities of Fairfield, Lincoln Park, Pequannock, Pompton Lakes and Wayne were flooded as were other municipalities not parties to this suit. It has been estimated that 5000 people were driven from their homes and many were not permitted to return for many days. The residents in these communities sustained substantial property damage including complete loss of homes and personal effects in many cases. There were numerous injuries and at least two deaths occurred. President Reagan declared the Counties of Passaic, Essex, Morris and Bergen as disaster areas and eligible for Federal Disaster Relief. The Red Cross and other similar organizations established emergency shelters for the homeless.

After the flooding subsided, the victims began the task of resuming their lives and began the clean up and reconstruction that was necessary to make their homes habitable. While such reconstruction took place, many were forced to live in nearby motels or move in with relatives or friends. The court notes that this flood and its effect on the residents was the leading news topic in the media for several months. All local and state newspapers carried front page articles with photographs. The flood received widespread coverage on television with daily reports from the various municipalities. The flood, its causes and prevention continue to be topics for media coverage.

Amidst this complete devastation 1,200 plaintiffs filed Notices of Claims with numerous state and local agencies and municipalities. Approximately 26 plaintiffs have failed to file Notices of Claims within 90 days and request leave to file late Notices pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:8-9. Defendants contend that the Notices filed within 90 days failed to comply with the requirements of N.J.S.A. 59:8-4 and, with respect to certain municipalities, the plaintiffs failed to supply the information requested in Supplemental Claim forms which are required by those municipalities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:8-6. The plaintiffs in this case have filed a Complaint more than 50 pages in length which contains Thirty Counts running the gambit from negligence, strict liability, trespass and nuisance to violation of civil rights and inverse condemnation and makes claim for property damage, personal injuries, impairment of the quality of life and wrongful death. The Complaint demands both compensatory and punitive damages. There are now 58 defendants, which includes numerous public agencies and private individuals. It is with this background that the court must decide the within Motions.

At the outset, it should be noted that defendants' Motion is filed on behalf of all defendants, public and private. It is not disputed that the notice requirements of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act applies to public entities and not individuals and, for that reason, the defendants' Motion shall be denied insofar as it was filed on behalf of all individual defendants. It should also be noted that the Tort Claims Act does not apply to several of the causes of action, such as inverse condemnation and violation of civil rights. Obviously, the claims of the infant plaintiffs may not be barred by this Motion as the running of time is expressly tolled for infants. The running of time as to the derivative claims for parents is also tolled.

The New Jersey Tort Claims Act provides in N.J.S.A. 59:8-3 that no action shall be brought against a public entity

unless the claim upon which it is based shall have been presented in accordance with the procedure set forth. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8 requires that all claims be presented within 90 days after the accrual of the cause of action. N.J.S.A. 59:8-4 requires a claimant, or someone acting in his behalf, to provide the following information.

(a) The name and post office address of the claimant.

(b) The post office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent.

(c) The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which give rise to the claim asserted.

(d) A general description of the injury, damage or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of ...


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