The New Jersey Appellate Division, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed a trial court’s determination that Plaintiff demonstrated extraordinary circumstances sufficient to warrant her late filing of a tort claim notice. Ordinarily, a plaintiff who wishes to bring a claim against a public entity in New Jersey must put that entity on notice of the claim within ninety (90) days of the date of its accrual.
In Marielle Kuczinski v. State of New Jersey, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-3694-17T2, Decided April 16, 2019, a New Jersey State Trooper had pulled Plaintiff over and asked for her driving credentials. Because she did not have her insurance card, she gave him her cell phone, which contained a photocopy of the document. Ms. Kuczinski learned from the New Jersey State Police Office of Professional Standards on January 17, 2017 that the trooper had removed personal information including nude photographs she had taken to document her weight loss from her cell phone without her consent. As a result of the trooper’s actions regarding Plaintiff and others, he was dismissed from the State Police.
On January 11, 2018, six days short of the one-year anniversary when she learned that Prather invaded her privacy, plaintiff filed a motion to file a late tort claim notice. At oral argument, the motion judge granted plaintiff’s request to testify at an evidentiary hearing to supplement the certification she attached to the motion concerning the extraordinary circumstances she contended justified a late tort claim notice under N.J.S.A. 59:8-9. Plaintiff contended that the anxiety and depression she had been experiencing from an abusive relationship and her best friend’s suicide was exacerbated. She attributed her focus towards her physical and mental health as to why she waited nine months after she learned about Prather’s action to seek legal counsel regarding her rights.
The trial court found that plaintiff’s claim accrued on January 11, 2017, when she learned that Prather had invaded her privacy and that defendants were not prejudiced because they notified plaintiff of her potential claim. It further concluded that the plaintiff sustained severe psychological and physical injuries as a result of the incident which constituted extraordinary circumstances. Defendants unsuccessfully argued on appeal that the trial court had abused its discretion in finding extraordinary circumstances. The Court concluded:
Nonetheless, considering that defendants’ disclosure to plaintiff made her aware of Prather’s misdeeds, in combination with plaintiff’s motion being filed within one year of the accrual of her claim and the judge’s credibility findings that plaintiff was experiencing physical and mental conditions from the revelation which affected her ability to file a timely tort claim notice, we conclude the totality of the circumstances warrant plaintiff to file a late tort claim notice. Before plaintiff became aware that her privacy was invaded, defendants had the “opportunity to plan for potential liability and correct the underlying condition.” Cite Omitted.
Op. at p.11
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