Our last blog post explored Arizona’s Notice of Claim statute, Arizona Revised Statute § 12-821.01. As we discussed, it requires a claimant to file a notice of claim before suing a public entity. One of the statutory requirements is that the claimant set forth “a specific amount for which the claim may be settled and the facts supporting that amount.” This language begs the question: how detailed and specific must these facts be stated in the Notice of Claim?
The Arizona Supreme Court addressed this issue in Backus v. State of Arizona, 220 Ariz. 101, 203 P.3d 499 (2009). In this case, the surviving members of two deceased state prisoners brought wrongful death cases against the state. The notice of claim for one of the families noted that the decedent had six children, that she died as a result of the negligence of the Arizona Department of Corrections, and stated a settlement total of $2,000,000. The trial court dismissed the claims of both families for failing to meet the supporting-facts requirement in the Notice of Claim statute. On appeal, the two cases were consolidated. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a claimant satisfies the supporting-facts requirement if the claimant provides “any facts to support the proposed settlement amounts, regardless of how meager.” The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals opinion and likewise reversed the trial court judgment in the two consolidated cases.
In analyzing the statutory language requiring supporting facts in a Notice of Claim, the Court concluded it is “not clear and equivocal” and therefore open to interpretation in light of the legislative purpose of the statute. In attempting to further legislative intent, the Court held that “a claimant complies with the supporting-facts requirement of § 12-821.01(A) by providing the factual foundation that the claimant regards as adequate to permit the public entity to evaluate the specific amount claimed.” Id. at 106-07, 203 P.3d at 504-05. This standard does not require the claimant to provide an exhaustive list of facts, and “courts should not scrutinize the claimant’s description of facts to determine the ‘sufficiency’ of the factual disclosure.” Id. at 107, 203 P.3d at 505.
A Notice of Claim need not be scrupulously precise, but must contain a basic factual description. A public entity can always request more facts if needed to evaluate a claim. The Court stated their belief that a claimant has no valid reason to withhold facts. Unrepresented plaintiffs will most likely supply facts in abundance because they want to settle their claim. Lawyers who represent plaintiffs suing a public entity know that they must provide sufficient information for the proper evaluation of their client’s claims if they wish to induce settlement.