The following questions came from The Leader (Knox):
Q: I received a document that says Re: Notice of Tort Claim. However, the document does not have a seal on it. Does that mean it has not been filed?
I called my county’s clerk, and it has not been filed in my county. I’d like to do a story on this because it is the next phase of an issue that I previously reported, but I want to make sure it is a legal document.
A: Before a lawsuit is filed against a government agency in the court, the plaintiff should file the claim with the government agency targeted. (This gives the public agency an opportunity to pay the claim or negotiate a different sum before anyone has to start paying legal costs.)
If you have a copy of the claim, you know which agency is the target.
Contact that entity and ask for copies of tort claims filed with it over the past couple of months. The tort claims are disclosable public records, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting copies.
That will tell you whether the first step has been taken toward filing the lawsuit. If the tort claim hasn’t been filed yet, then the story may be premature for publication because the tort claim might never be filed.
Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 624-4427.