In Arizona, a person is required to bring a notice of claim prior to filing a lawsuit against a public entity or employee. The requirements concerning the notice of claim are set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes Section 12-821.01. The purpose of the statute is to allow the public entity to investigate and assess liability, to permit the possibility of settlement prior to litigation and to assist the public entity in financial planning and budgeting. The statute also aims to guard against the possibility that claimants will present the State with baseless demands.
Requirements of Notice of Claim Statute
Pursuant to A.R.S. §12-821.01(A), the notice of claim shall be filed with the person or persons authorized to accept service for the public entity or public employee within 180 days after the cause of action accrues. The cause of action accrues when the damaged party realizes he or she has been damaged and knows or reasonably should know the cause, source, act, event, instrumentality or condition that caused or contributed to the damage.
There is not a specific form that must be filed in order to present a notice of claim. The notice of claim is usually presented by filing a letter with the person authorized to accept service on behalf of the public entity. Some public entities have their own notice of claim forms, however, a claimant is not required to use the public entity’s specific form.
It is essential that all of the statutory requirements be contained in the notice of claim. The statute requires that the claim shall contain facts sufficient to permit the public entity or public employee to understand the basis on which the liability is claimed. “Actual notice and substantial compliance do not excuse failure to comply with the statutory requirements of A.R.S. §12-821.01(A).” Falcon ex rel. Sandoval v. Maricopa County, 144 P.3d 1254 (2006).
The claim shall also contain specific amounts for which the claim can be settled and the facts supporting that amount. A “specific amount” may not contain any qualifying or modifying language. For example, the Arizona Supreme Court determined that the use of terms such as “approximately,” “or more going forward,” and “no less than,” in connection with a settlement amount is not a “specific amount” because these terms make “it impossible to ascertain the precise amount for which the [public entity or employee] could have settled [the] claim.” Deer Valley Unified Sch. Dist. v. Houser, 152 P.3d 490, 492-93 (Ariz. 2007).
What happens if you fail to comply with the notice of claim statute?
According to ARS §12-821.01(A), any claim that is not filed within 180 days after the cause of action accrues is barred and no action may be maintained therein. Thus, failure to comply with the notice of claim statute precludes someone from bringing a lawsuit regardless of the merits of the case. Arizona court shave noted that the statute operates as a procedural barrier to relief–a claimant’s failure to adhere to the statute means that his claims are precluded from moving forward. Crum v. Superior Court, 922 P.2d 316 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1996); Salerno v. Espinoza, 115 P.3d 626 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2005).