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Supreme Court throws out crash claim against state worker

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A woman can’t sue a state worker for allegedly injuring her in a car accident because she had her claim hand-delivered to the attorney general’s office instead of sending it by certified mail, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, writing for the majority, acknowledged that the decision was “harsh” but said state law clearly specifies that claims against state employees must be delivered via certified mail to the attorney general’s Capitol office.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who dissented, called the decision “absurd,” noting that the attorney general no longer receives certified mail at the Capitol office.

According to court documents, Department of Health Services employee Richard Batchelder rear-ended a car that in turn rear-ended Cheryl Sorenson in Milwaukee County in 2010. Batchelder was working in his state capacity at the time.

Sorenson used a process server to hand-deliver to staff in the attorney general’s office in January 2011 a notice of claim alleging property damage and injury. Staff forwarded the claim to the attorney general’s downtown Madison office, where it was processed. The following month, the state paid Sorenson $241 to cover damage to her car.

She filed a negligence lawsuit against Batchelder in 2013, but an appeals court dismissed the lawsuit last year, finding that state statutes require claim notices be delivered by certified mail to the attorney general’s Capitol office.

The Supreme Court upheld that decision in a 5-2 ruling. Roggensack wrote that the statute must be interpreted literally to maintain an orderly way of doing business. She suggested that Sorenson speak to legislators about changing the law.

Sorenson’s attorney, Jason Abraham, said the ruling makes no sense. Nobody can comply with the statute because the attorney general’s Capitol office doesn’t receive certified mail, he said.

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