Define That Term #198
Crimes and Misdemeanors

NY Court of Appeals Strictly Interprets Court of Claims Act Requirements

Last Thursday, in Kolnacki v State of New York, 2007 NY Slip Op 02436, the New York Court of Appeals considered the issue of whether the failure of a Court of Claim's claimant to include the "total sum" of her monetary damages in her claim was a fatal jurisdictional defect.   

In this case, the claim at issue stated, in relation to the damages suffered, only that "[t]he full extent of claimant's injuries are not yet known," and that she had "incurred injuries, damages, medical and hospital expenses which are to date undetermined and will incur loss of earnings and impairment of health."

The Court reviewed the applicable provision and the purpose behind the Court of Claims Act and concluded that the failure to include the amount of damages claimed is a fatal deficiency:

Under section 8 of the Court of Claims Act, the State has waived its sovereign immunity from liability "provided the claimant complies with the limitations of this article [§§ 8-12]." The Act contains several conditions that must be met in order to assert a claim against the State. Specifically, "[t]he claim shall state the time when and place where such claim arose, the nature of same, and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed" (Court of Claims Act § 11 [b] [emphasis supplied]).

"'[B]ecause suits against the State are allowed only by the State's waiver of sovereign immunity and in derogation of the common law, statutory requirements conditioning suit must be strictly construed'" (Lichtenstein v State of New York, 93 NY2d 911, 913 [1999] quoting Dreger v New York State Thruway Auth., 81 NY2d 721, 724 [1992]). Section 11 plainly requires that the claim state the total sum claimant is seeking. Notwithstanding Kolnacki's argument that "the total sum claimed" does not necessarily have to be a dollar figure, it is clear that her claim — entirely lacking any amount of monetary damages — failed to satisfy the requirements of the statute.

This decision isn't particularly surprising to me and serves to further highlight how important it is to err on the side of caution when filing claims against the State of New York.  The failure to include the required information in the Claim can result in the dismissal of an otherwise strong claim, so make sure to carefully review the relevant statutory provisions prior to commencing an action against the State.  Better safe than sorry.


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