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Torts/Constitutional Law/Equitable Tolling/Statute of Limitations vs Governmental Entities

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Oct 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Viniegra v. Town of Parker Municipal Prop. Corp., 749 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 19 (App. Div. I, October 6, 2016) (J. Kessler)

A.R.S. §12-821 ONE YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL UNDER EQUAL PROTECTION OR ANTI-ABROGATION CLAUSE NOR DOES EQUITABLE TOLLING APPLY WHERE RISK MANAGEMENT DOES NOT ADMIT LIABILITY, AGREE TO TOLL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS OR PROMISE TO SETTLE

Plaintiff suffered a serious injury when he slipped and fell at the Town of Parker Cemetery. He filed a timely Notice of Claim but did not file suit until nearly two years after the fall. The trial court dismissed the complaint and denied plaintiffs' motion for new trial based upon A.R.S. §12-821—the one year statute of limitations on claims against governmental entities. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.

The claim of equitable estoppel requires proof the defendant or its insurer made specific promises, threats, or inducements to prevent the plaintiff from filing suit, those acts actually induced the plaintiff to forbear from filing suit, the acts reasonably caused the plaintiff to forbear filing suit timely, and the plaintiff filed the suit within a reasonable time after termination of the conduct warranting estoppel. Here there was no evidence risk management had admitted  liability, agreed to settle or even negotiate the claim, made a payment, or entered any negotiations or agreement to toll the statute of limitations; To the contrary, a failure to respond timely to a notice of claim is by operation of law a denial of the claim. See A.R.S. §12-821.01(E).

The one year statute of limitations is not unconstitutional under the Anti-Abrogation clause (Const. art. 18 §6) or Equal Protection clause because the statute does abrogate or eliminate claims against the government it only regulates them. In doing so the statute protects legitimate government interests, including giving the  government notice, providing it an opportunity to investigate liability, allowing for a possibility of settlement before litigation, and assisting the government in fiscal planning.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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