When Government or Alcohol is Involved: Tort Claims
If the death was caused by a public entity, or someone working for a public entity, then a “Tort Claim Notice” has to be received by the proper person or department within one year of the incident that caused the death (If it’s an injury that does not cause death, the time limit is only 180 days). The “tort claim notice” is basically the official notice for a public body that someone believes they have grounds for a lawsuit. This is not the lawsuit itself, which will later need to be proved, but just the first step in the process – and if this step is not taken properly, and within the time limit, then any lawsuit will later be thrown out.
Tort claim notices can be tricky; it would not be good to wait until the last minute to send one, as it has to be actually received by the deadline, and it has to go to the correct person or entity. ORS 30.275 describes exactly what must be in the tort claim notice, and to whom it must be mailed. If you are suing a private business or individual, a tort claim notice is not necessary – but do not assume you don’t need one. If one is required and it is not received in time, you will forfeit your right to sue that public entity.
This one-year time limit is very important and it sometimes applies even when you think it doesn’t. For example, if a car heading north goes through a green light, and meanwhile a truck heading east T-bones the car in the intersection, people will assume the trucker had a red light and was at fault. But what if the trucker actually had a green light because the signal was broken, and so the truck and the car both had green lights? In that case, the fault may be with the city or county responsible for keeping the signal working, not with the truck driver. Even if nobody finds out until over a year later that the signal was broken, the lawsuit against the city or county that was responsible for the broken traffic signal will likely still be barred because the tort claim notice was not sent to them in time.