Kovacs v. Connecticut Department of Transportation
A letter that purports to provide notice of an accident to the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §13a-144, may be insufficient, if the letter does not indicate that the author intends to file a claim for damages against the state. On Aug. 30, 2011, Norman Barber drove his wife’s truck in Scotland, Conn. and discovered that the highway was obstructed as a result of a recent storm. Barber drove around the traffic barriers and heard a branch fall onto the truck. Barber contacted the state police, and a police officer investigated and wrote an official report about the accident. On Nov. 7, 2011, Barber wrote the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, described the damage to the truck and concluded, “I hope you will help me get my truck repaired. . . . This is my only means of transportation.” Barber’s wife, Patricia Kovacs, filed a pro se suit against the Department of Transportation and alleged that the department was negligent, because it did not trim the tree. The Department of Transportation moved to dismiss and argued that Kovacs failed to provide notice of the claim within 90 days, pursuant to C.G.S. §13a-144. The statute provides, “No such action shall be brought . . . unless notice of such injury and a general description of the same and of the cause thereof and of the time and place of its occurrence has been given in writing within ninety days thereafter to the commissioner.” The court found that Barber’s notice was insufficient, because he sent notice on behalf of himself, as opposed to his wife; he did not qualify as his wife’s legal representative or attorney; and he did not indicate that he intended to file a claim against the State of Connecticut for damages. Although Barber thanked the commissioner of the Department of Transportation for considering his claim, the letter that he wrote did not meet strict statutory requirements, and the court granted the Department of Transportation’s motion to dismiss.