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Deschenes v. City of Sanford

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

April 14, 2016

JOHN E. DESCHENES
v.
CITY OF SANFORD

         Argued February 9, 2016.

          John F. Zink, Esq., Freeport, for appellant John E. Deschenes.

         Michael L. Buescher, Esq., Drummond Woodsum, Portland, for appellee City of Sanford.

         Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          OPINION

Page 199

          HUMPHREY, J.

          [¶1] In this case, we hold that a person cannot substantially comply with the notice requirement of the Maine Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S. § § 8101-8118 (2015), without filing some type of written notice within 180 days after a claim accrues against a governmental entity.

          [¶2] John Deschenes appeals from the entry of a summary judgment by the Superior Court (York County, Fritzsche, J. ) in favor of the City of Sanford in his suit for personal injuries resulting from his fall down stairs at City Hall.[1] Deschenes contends that the court erroneously concluded that he failed to substantially comply with the notice requirement of the Maine Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S. § 8107 (2015). Because we now conclude that a person cannot substantially comply with the Act if he provides only oral notice of his claim, the court did not err in entering a summary judgment for the City, and we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶3] The following facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Deschenes, are drawn from the statements of material facts and, except where otherwise indicated, are undisputed. See Budge v. Town of Millinocket, 2012 ME 122, ¶ 12, 55 A.3d 484; N.E. Ins. Co. v. Young, 2011 ME 89, ¶ 5, 26 A.3d 794. On February 17, 2012, Deschenes visited Sanford City Hall with his daughter to obtain a copy of her birth certificate. As he descended a stairway leading to the City Clerk's office, he tripped and fell forward down several steps, landed on the concrete floor at the base of the stairs, and slid into the glass doors of the office. When City employees, including the Clerk, responded to the sound of the fall, Deschenes informed them that he had fallen down the stairs. The employees assisted Deschenes into the Clerk's office and rendered initial first aid. In response to a 9-1-1 call from the Clerk's office, a Sanford police officer arrived and called for emergency medical assistance.

          [¶4] Deschenes asserts that, around this time, someone in the Clerk's office asked him to sign an insurance form; although the City disputes that this occurred, it is undisputed that Deschenes understood that any form he filled out " did

Page 200

not express any intention on his part to make a claim against anybody, but merely provided information regarding his insurance that [Sanford] needed to bill his insurer for his transport by the Rescue ambulance."

          [¶5] As Deschenes was leaving to go to the emergency room for further evaluation, the Clerk overheard him tell an EMT that he had fallen down the stairs because his foot had caught on an uneven stair tread. The Clerk then inspected the stairs and called the City's Director of Facilities/Deputy Director of Emergency Management, who also inspected them. The Clerk also emailed the Finance Director and Finance Assistant to ...


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