The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the petition seeking leave to file late notices of claim should have been granted. The claims arise from groundwater contamination linked to chemicals (PFOS and PFOA) used at a county airport. The Second Department noted that the county had timely notice of the essential facts of the claims, the petition was brought three months after the notices of claim were due, and the county did not demonstrate and prejudice resulting from the delay:
… [T]he County’s alleged negligent ownership and operation of the Gabreski Airport site, resulting in contamination of the petitioners’ water supply with toxic chemicals, constitute the essential facts of the claims, which are common to all the petitioners and were made known to the County by the prior notices of claim … .
Inasmuch as the County acquired timely, actual knowledge of the essential facts of the petitioners’ claims, the petitioners made an initial showing that the County was not prejudiced by their delay in serving the notices of claim … . Moreover, the petitioners sought leave to serve late notices of claim only a little more than three months after the statutory period had expired … . In opposition, the County failed to rebut the petitioners’ showing that the County was not prejudiced by their delay with any particularized evidence … . The County did no more than assert that the petitioners failed to meet their burden to show that the late notice would not substantially prejudice the County … .
“A petitioner’s lack of a reasonable excuse for the delay in serving a timely notice of claim is not necessarily fatal when weighed against other relevant factors” … . While the petitioners’ assertions that they were not aware of the County’s involvement in the cause of the incident does not constitute a reasonable excuse for their failure to file a timely notice of claim, the absence of a reasonable excuse “is not in and of itself fatal to the petition where, as here, there was actual notice and the absence of prejudice” … . Matter of Brooks v County of Suffolk, 2019 NY Slip Op 08561, Second Dept 11-27-19