New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims



Case Information

MERI-BETH SPRING, Individually and as Parent and Natural Guardian of CHELSEA SPRING
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):

Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
McNamee, Lochner, Titus & Williams, P.C.
By: Christopher Massaroni, Esq. and Scott C. Paton, Esq.,Of Counsel
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Glenn C. King, Assistant Attorney General,Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 13, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Movants' proposed claim alleges that on July 10, 2003, campers and counselors at Camp Pack Forest, a day camp operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), engaged in certain activities in which they threw mud at one another. Chelsea Spring, claimant's daughter, was struck in the face with mud, debris and rocks and allegedly suffered serious and debilitating injuries. The State's liability for these injuries is premised on its alleged negligence in failing to supervise the campers and failing to safeguard the campers and on the acts of its employees in participating in the mud-throwing. Because Chelsea Spring is still an infant (date of birth July 14, 1987), a claim can be filed on her behalf or by her for some time to come. The motion for permission to late file, therefore, relates only to the claim of Meri-Beth Spring, her mother, to recover monies she has expended for extensive medical treatment needed for her daughter.

This motion was brought four months after the proposed claim arose, and a like action against a citizen would not be barred by the applicable statute of limitations (CPLR 214). In determining a motion for permission to file a late claim, the Court must consider, among
other relevant factors, the six factors set forth in subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act: 1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; 2) whether the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; 3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; 4) whether the claim appears to be meritorious; 5) whether the failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State; and 6) whether the claimant has another available remedy. The Court in the exercise of its discretion balances these factors. The presence or absence of any one factor is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement Sys. Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement Sys., 55 NY2d 979 [1982]).

Claimant failed to timely initiate an action in this court because she was pursuing a claim for reimbursement of the cost of dental treatment that she made directly to DEC, a claim that she understood would be paid. Claimant received a letter from DEC dated July 30, 2003 from Leatha Lawrence, of the agency's Division of Legal Affairs (notice of motion, Meri-Beth Spring affidavit, Exhibit). The letter indicated that it related to "Damage to Chelsea Spring's Teeth," and enclosed with it were four claim/release forms and a voucher. Claimant was asked to provide an explanation of the compensation sought; two estimates to repair the damage; information about claimant's dental insurance; and all "reports, statements from witnesses (including Department staff) and photographs" related to the incident. According to claimant, she objected to getting additional estimates of the work that needed to be done and, through a series of voice messages, raised this objection to Ms. Lawrence and received word that the additional estimates would not be necessary. The last communication appears to have been a message left by claimant, asking Ms. Lawrence for a new letter explaining how the matter should be handled. There was no response to this message.
In early September, claimant encountered her counsel at a social event and indicated that she was dissatisfied with the lack of response from DEC. Subsequently, he reviewed the documents in claimant's possession and by the time he informed her that she would have to file a claim of her own to receive compensation for the medical expenses for which she had paid, the ninety day period in which to commence such claim had expired. Anticipation of settlement is not a sufficient excuse for delay in filing (Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729 [2d Dept 1986]; Society of New York Hospital v State of New York, 21 AD2d 733 [3d Dept 1964], appeal denied 14 NY2d 490; Professional Charter Services, Inc. v State of New York, 166 Misc 2d 306 [Ct Cl 1995]; Dobbert v State of New York, UID #2003-015-318, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-66046 [March 6, 2003], Collins, J.; 62A NY Jur 2d Government Tort Liability § 295)
Claimant asserts that the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim, but the only indication that this is true is the letter, referred to above, outlining a claim procedure. The letter does show some timely notice on the part of DEC's legal department, and notice can also be inferred by the seriousness of the injury, which required camp staff members to take Chelsea to a local hospital even before her mother arrived. Finally, because of the relatively short time between the end of the ninety day period and the commencement of this motion, it does not appear that defendant's opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim would be significantly impeded or that permitting the filing of an untimely claim would result in substantial prejudice to the State.
It also appears that claimant would not have an available remedy against any party other than the State.
Claimant must also establish that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1 [Ct Cl 1997]), because permitting a defective claim to be filed, even if the other factors in Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) supported the granting of claimant's motion, would be meaningless and futile (Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729, supra; Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967 [Ct Cl 1982]).
Counsel for defendant argues that the proposed claim has no underlying merit because Chelsea Spring voluntarily participated in the mud-throwing and therefore assumed the risk of whatever injury might result. This may be the case. On the other hand, Chelsea was a minor and under the supervision and control of the camp counselors and staff members. There needs to be a more complete development of the facts, through examinations of the participants and review of camp procedures, to determine whether or not there is "reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists." It is appropriate to permit a claim to be late filed even when a proposed claim may or may not have merit, depending on facts that are not reasonably accessible to the claimant in the early stages (Marcus v State of New York, 172 AD2d 724 [2d Dept 1991] ; Dippolito v State of New York, 192 Misc 2d 395 [Ct Cl 2002]),
Taking into account the six statutorily prescribed factors, the Court finds them to weigh in favor of granting claimant's motion for permission to file a late claim. Claimant is therefore directed to file and serve a claim identical to the proposed claim submitted in support of this motion; and to do so in conformity with the requirements of Court of Claims Act §§ 10 and 11 within sixty (60) days after this order is filed.

February 13, 2004
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The following papers were read on movant's motion for permission to file an untimely claim
1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of Christopher Massaroni, Esq., with annexed Affidavit of Meri-Beth Spring and Affidavit of Chelsea Spring, and a memorandum of law.
2. Affirmation in Opposition of Glenn C. King, Esq., AAG
Filed papers: None