Ignore Your Rights and They’ll Go Away # 445

I have written about this before – maybe not 445 times, but if there is one area of the law where courts tend to be consistent, whatever the merits of the case or the seeming harshness of the result, it is with deadlines.  In Morack v. Town of Waukesha, the Moracks purchased some property which was “downstream” from a development.  They complained to the Town that the storm-water from the development was causing flooding on their property.  They hired an attorney who also complained, and threatened legal action against the Town.  The Town’s attorney sent them a letter informing them of Wisconsin’s notice of claim statute, and suggesting that they should follow the procedures found there if they wanted to file a claim against the Town.  The Moracks did not follow the procedure in § 893.80, and instead continued their complaints and threats of legal action for another ten years.  Eventually, they sued, and the circuit court said they were about ten years too late (I’m paraphrasing).  They appealed and the appellate court upheld the circuit court decision.

Again, the lesson here is that process and deadlines are important.  The Moracks were denied the chance to argue the merits of the case because they failed to meet the deadlines.  In this case the appellate court noted that the purpose of the Notice of Claim statute is so that the local government can evaluate a claim, decide on its merits, and respond to it while the issues are fresh.  In this case, in the intervening ten years the developer had died, and his company had gone bankrupt.  While it may seem that ten years is just too long to wait, keep in mind that one day late may be just as fatal to a claim you hope to make

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