Local, county, state or federal government liability in California is governed by a maze of unique
rules. Disability and harm caused by dangerous highways, public transit vehicles, improper school
supervision, and other government functions is within our expertise. In most circumstances, a government entity can be sued for the acts of its employees as if the misconduct had been committed by a private individual.
From dealing with a shorter statute of limitations, to the application of special Government Code immunities, our attorneys have litigated against government entities with great success throughout California.
For information on public entity liability, please visit the topics below. In addition, our Frequently Asked Questions regarding cases against the government may be helpful to you.
- When is a Public Entity Generally Liable?
- Procedural Requirements in California Government Entity Cases
- What is the Difference Between a Claim and a Complaint?
- Cases Against a Public Entity for Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
- Cases Against School Districts
- Cases Against the Federal Government
- Damages in Public Entity Cases
- When Is a Public Entity Generally Liable?
In most circumstances a government entity can be sued for the acts of its employees just as if the misconduct had been committed by a private individual. It is important to know that a public entity will only be liable when the State legislature has passed a statute allowing liability for the act. However, there are significant differences between public entity and private entity liability that must be understood and researched on a case-by-case basis.
Procedural Requirements in California Government Entity Cases
A formal claim against a state or local government entity must be filed with the proper department of the entity within six months of the accrual of the cause of action, i.e., in almost every case within six months of the date of the accident/incident. If the claim is not filed within six months, with few exceptions, it is barred by law.
The necessity of filing a claim within six months applies to all claims for damages against government entities, including claims arising out of contract and will usually apply even if you are unaware that a potential defendant is a governmental entity. The claim must present the basis or facts upon which you believe the government entity owes you monetary damages. It must explain any injuries you have sustained and the names of any public entity employees or agents you feel are responsible for your injuries. Your claim need only provide the public entity with a basic knowledge of the facts and your damages.
Upon presentation of the claim, the entity has four choices:
- Reject the Claim.
- Give notice the Claim is insufficient.
- Do nothing.
- Approve the Claim.
Almost every claim is initially rejected. If the government entity decides to respond in some way, it must do so after 45 days of the presentation of the claim. If the public entity does nothing, the claim is deemed rejected 45 days after presented.
The rejection notice must contain a warning that the claimant has only six months from the date of personal delivery of the notice to file a lawsuit. If the public entity sends proper written notice of rejection of the claim, you have six months to file a lawsuit against the entity or the case will be barred. If the public entity fails to give notice of rejection, you have two years to file a lawsuit.
There are many variables to the rules listed above, including exceptions to the six month claim requirements, relief from filing late claims, and proper service of the claim. If you have been injured by a government entity, you should contact an attorney immediately to review your case.
What is the difference between a claim and a complaint?
A claim is the “assertion of a right to money or property” served on the appropriate public entity. A claim must include an allegation of an injury and a “prayer for damages”, which is essentially a request for some sort of compensation. Before you can bring a lawsuit, you must first present a written, formal claim to the board of the governing body. The claim is a prerequisite to filing a complaint.
A complaint is the legal document you file with the court of proper jurisdiction to formally begin a lawsuit. A complaint must include the facts that you think entitle you to some relief from the court and a prayer for damages.
Cases Against a Public Entity for Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
A public entity is liable for the death or injury to a person or property caused by negligent operation of a motor vehicle by an employee of the public entity acting within the scope of his employment.
Cases Against School Districts
Public school districts are considered public entities. School authorities have a duty to supervise the conduct of children on school grounds. They have the duty to utilize the care which a person of ordinary prudence, charged with comparable duties, would exercise under the same circumstances. For the plaintiff to prevail, it is important to establish that the wrongful act by the school employee occurred within the scope of the employee’s employment.
Schools are not responsible for injuries which occur outside of the school grounds, unless a student is injured on a school bus or some other form of transportation provided by the school.
Cases Against the Federal Government.
Cases against the Federal government are controlled by the Federal Tort Claims Act. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the United States is made liable for injury or loss of property, Cases Against Government, or death caused by the negligent, wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Federal government, while acting within the scope of his office or employment. The liability is the same as that imposed upon a private individual under State law.
Actions against the Federal government must be brought in the Federal District Court where the plaintiff resides or where the act complained of occurred.
The plaintiff must first file a claim with the appropriate Federal agency and that claim must be formally denied. Claims must be presented within two years after they accrue and actions can be commenced six months after denial of the claim.
The governmental agency involved has power to settle the claims before the suit is commenced. The attorney general may settle a claim of any amount after the complaint is filed.
The amount demanded in the claim may not be increased in a suit subsequently filed in the absence of newly discovered evidence or intervening facts.
There is no right to a jury trial. The case is tried to a judge.
There can be no recovery of punitive damages against the Federal government. In addition to the limitations of the Federal Tort Claims Act, the United States, as a defendant, is entitled to rely upon any defenses a private person may reply upon in a state court complaint.
Damages in Public Entity Cases
There are special damage rules regarding public entities. If a plaintiff can prove liability against a public entity, he or she is entitled to the same damages against a private person or corporation for Cases Against Government or wrongful death with two exceptions:
A plaintiff is not entitled to recover punitive damages;
In a case in which the public entity does not have commercial insurance, a public entity may elect to make payments on an installment basis to satisfy a portion of the judgment. Payments do not terminate on the death of the plaintiff or the heirs in a wrongful death case and interest accrues on the unpaid balance.
Other than the two exceptions above, a plaintiff is entitled to the following damages:
In a Cases Against Government case, a plaintiff can recover for past medical expenses, future predicted medical expenses, past wage loss, future predicted wage loss, loss of earning capacity and for past and future pain and suffering.
In a wrongful death case, damages include the value of future monetary contributions from the decedent to the heirs and the value of any personal service, advice or training. Damages also include compensation for loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace or moral support or any loss of decedent’s physical assistance in the operation or maintenance of the home.