Most of us are aware that a statute of limitations sets a specific timeframe on when claims for personal injury damages may be filed in California. Did you know, though, that there is a separate (and much more time-sensitive) process for claims against the government? If you are injured by a government employee, while on government property, or because of the negligence of a government agency you must file a special claim with the government before you can pursue a civil lawsuit for monetary damages.
If you have been injured and believe that the government may be at fault, it is imperative that you file a claim as soon as possible. An experienced California personal injury attorney can help you through the process to ensure that you are not prohibited from recovering money you may desperately need to get better.
California Tort Claims Act
In California, if you are involved in an accident and believe that a government employee or agency may be responsible, you must file a special claim. Under the California Tort Claims Act, you have 6 months from the date you are injured to file a claim with the appropriate government entity. An injury may be a physical injury, property damage, or violation of your rights.
Why is the time in which you may file a claim with the government so short? The purpose of these claims is to alert the government to a problem and give them the opportunity to fix the situation. If, for example, you are injured after tripping on a city sidewalk because it is poorly maintained and poorly lit, submitting the claim to the responsible government entity gives them the chance to fix the problem(s) before another person is injured. If you were injured and waited almost two years before filing a claim many other people could be injured because of the same problems during that time.
Not All Injuries Are Covered by the California Tort Claims Act
In most cases, the California Tort Claims Act permits injured accident victims to recover monetary compensation from the responsible government entity. Any claims that are not seeking monetary relief are barred. Additionally, claims for certain injuries and damages are prohibited. These include injuries caused by:
- The National Guard;
- Passing or failing to pass a law;
- Issuing or failing to issue an official order or authorization;
- Failing to inspect a non-governmental property;
- Failing to enforce a law; and
Claims against the government may not seek to recover punitive damages.
Timeline For Filing Governmental Claims
In most cases, if you are seeking monetary damages from the government a claim must be filed within 6 months of the date you are injured. If, for some reason, an injury is not apparent until a later date, you may file a claim within 6 months of learning of the injury. Failing to file a claim within these 6 month periods will generally bar you from recovering compensation from the government.
There are, however, limited exceptions to the 6-month rule. If you miss the 6 month window you may submit an application for late filing. The application is essentially a letter where you ask the government to overlook your late claim. There are four reasons on which you may base your application:
- Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
- Physical or mental incapacity;
- You were a minor for the entire 6-month period following your injury; or
Applications for late filing must be filed within one year of your injury. There is no hard and fast rule about what is or is not reasonable. Instead, the government board reviewing your application will consider the facts and circumstances of your individual case.
Process of Filing a Claim with a California Government Entity
The California Tort Claims Act lays out the process you must follow when submitting a claim to a government entity.
Who can file a claim?
You may file a claim for damages with a government entity if (a) the government violated your rights or (b) the government is responsible for your injury. You may also file a claim on behalf of another person if he or she is incapable of filing on their own behalf.
How do you file a claim?
The process for filing a claim depends on the type of government entity responsible for your injury:
- If you want to file a claim against the county or other local government entity, you must file the claim with the governing board or clerk of that entity. Filing may be done by mail or in person.
- If you want to file a claim against the state or a state agency, you must file the claim with the State Board of Control (SBC). Filing may be done by mail or in person.
What do you include in the claim?
A claim filed with the government must include the following information:
- Your name and address;
- Date, place, and information about the incident that caused your injury;
- Detailed description of your injury; and
- The name of any government employees responsible, if applicable.
Requests for Damages
If you are seeking less than $10,000 in damages you must state the specific amount and explain how you calculated your loss. If you are seeking more than $10,000 in damages you do not have to state a specific amount, but you must indicate whether your claim would be a limited civil case.
A limited civil case is generally one where the amount of damages is less than $25,000 and you do not ask the court to impose some other requirement on the government. For example, if your claim asks for a permanent injunction, declaratory relief, or determination of title for property your cause would not be a limited civil case.
Don’t worry if this sounds complicated! When you hire an experienced California personal injury attorney they will make sure your claim is filed on time and includes all necessary information.
What Happens After the Government Responds to Your Claim?
After you submit your claim the government is required to respond within 45 days. Three things can happen during this time.
First, the government can approve your claim and agree to your terms. If this is the case, you will not be required to file a civil suit against the government. Instead, the government has agreed to your terms and you will recover the damages sought in your claim.
Second, the government can deny your claim. If this is the case, you have 6 months from the date of the denial to file a civil lawsuit for damages. In most cases, the government will deny your claim (at least in part). It is important to keep track of the dates you submit and receive correspondence with the government. You could be prohibited from recovering compensation if you miss the deadline – even by a day.
Third, the government can fail to respond to your claim. If this is the case, you are permitted to file a civil lawsuit within two years of the date of your injury. The government will generally not fail to respond – they would prefer to limit your timeframe to 6 months rather than 2 years.
Is the Government Responsible for Your Personal Injury?
If you think that the government may be responsible for your personal injury you should contact an experienced California personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Time is of the essence when handling government personal injury claims, so it is important to begin the process as soon as possible. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn about your legal rights.
Joshua W. Glotzer, APC
714 W Olympic Blvd #632
Los Angeles, California 90015