An interesting case is presently pending in the state of Arizona. An alarm was activated at the plaintiff’s uniform laundering facility in Phoenix. Within minutes, the plaintiff’s alarm monitoring company notified the city fire department that it had received a water flow alarm, which indicated the activation of fire suppression equipment at the plaintiff’s facility. The alarm company also reported that a burglar alarm at the facility had been activated. The fire department refused to respond to the facility because the burglar alarm had been activated and directed the alarm company to contact the city police department. The fire department did not arrive at the facility until more than one hour after it was notified of the fire. The plaintiff’s facility suffered extensive fire, smoke and water damage as a result of the fire.

The plaintiff delivered a Notice of Claim form to the city pursuant to Arizona’s notice of claim statute: Arizona revised statues (“ARS”) §12-821.01.

In making its claim, plaintiff described the damage to its property as “fire damage to the building” and stated its claim could be settled for $350,000. The city denied the plaintiff’s claim.

The plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the city’s negligence in failing to timely respond to the fire caused extensive fire, smoke and water damage to plaintiff’s facility. The city made a motion for summary judgment on the grounds of absolute immunity, moving to dismiss the complaint for the reason that the plaintiff had failed to comply with ARS §12-821.01(A). The city claimed that the plaintiff had not provided in its notice of claim sufficient facts to support and explain its $350,000 settlement demand.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly dismissed its complaint.

On appeal, the court pointed out that Arizona’s notice of claim statute  requires a person with a claim against the public entity to file his or her claim with the authorized person within 180 days after the cause of action arises. The notice must include facts sufficient to permit the public entity to understand the basis upon which liability is claimed, a specific amount for which the claim can be settled and the facts supporting the amount claimed. Failure to comply with the statute bars a plaintiff from pursuing the underlying cause of action.

In discussing the matter, the court referred to a previous case that held that because the statute did not require a claimant to set forth facts “sufficient” to support the amount claimed, a claimant may comply with the statute by “providing the factual foundation that the claimant regards as adequate to permit the public entity to evaluate the specific amount claimed” and courts should not scrutinize the claimant’s description of facts to determine the “sufficiency” of the factual disclosure.

The court therefore rejected the city’s claim and held that by stating in its notice of claim that it had suffered “fire damage to the building located at 5501 West Hadley, Phoenix, Arizona, 85043,” the plaintiff did set forth those facts it regarded as supporting its $350,000 settlement demand. Therefore, the court found that the notice of claim complied with ARS §12-821.01(A) and the court improperly granted summary judgment for the city.

The city had also urged the trial court to affirm the lower court’s judgment on the basis that the plaintiff’s notice of claim failed as a matter of law because it only referred to “fire damage” whereas plaintiff pled in its complaint that its facility suffered “fire, smoke and water damage.” The court rejected the claim as the plaintiff’s statement that it suffered fire damage as a result of the fire reasonably included damage from smoke and water in conjunction with the fire.

Therefore the court held that the plaintiff’s notice of claim met the statutory requirements and reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for additional proceedings consistent with the decision.


This article was previously published in the print magazine as "Fire Department Fails to Respond to Alarm."


Readers Ask

Question: Our company salesman negotiated and prepared a contract with a potential subscriber.  The subscriber took the contract as he wanted to review it before signing.  He apparently then signed the contract and e-mailed it back to us with his signature.  Is this a valid contract?

Answer: Electronic signatures or contracts with a signature that is scanned and returned by e-mail have been deemed to be valid contracts by the courts.  It’s always great to have the original contract signed; however, as long as you have a signed copy which has been e-mailed to you, and you have performed fully, the courts will generally enforce the contract.  


To ask Les Gold a question, e-mail