Government Claims Act
Attorney Michael Rehm -- (800) 978-0754
When you sue the Government, it is through the Government Claims Act, starting with Government Code § 810. For purposes of this discussion, "Government" refers to the state and local governmental entities. Filing suit against the Federal Government is governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act.
To successfully bring a suit against the government, the Government Claims Act requires that a claim is first filed with that governmental entity. The purpose is to allow the governmental entity a chance to investigate the claim, avoiding the possibility that evidence becomes unavailable later. Theoretically, the purpose is also to allow the entity the opportunity to fix the problem, and assess how much liability will realistically be assessed, so they can accommodate this amount into their budget. (See Westcon Const. Corp v. County of Sacramento (2007) 152 CA4th 183, 200-201)
The claim filing requirement applies to all claims against the government for "money and damages", including personal injury, wrongful death and property damage cases.
Section 1 - Form and Content of the Claim:
Government Code §910 governs what must be included in the claim. It is important to remember when submitting the claim that any claim must include a description of any cause of action that will be the basis of the lawsuit. Failure to give proper notice of a claim can be a complete defense to it later being brought up in court.
Government Code §910:
A claim shall be presented by the claimant or by a person acting on his or her behalf and shall show all of the following:
- The name and post office address of the claimant.
- The post office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent.
- The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted.
- A general description of the indebtedness, obligation, injury, damage or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of presentation of the claim.
- The name or names of the public employee or employees causing the injury, damage, or loss, if known.
- The amount claimed if it totals less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed. If the amount claimed exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), no dollar amount shall be included in the claim. However, it shall indicate whether the claim would be a limited civil case.
Pursuant to Government Code § 910.4, the governmental entity will provide forms for the filing of claims for money or damages. These are the correct forms to use; failure to use the proper forms will generally cause the forms to be rejected. Every claim against the State of California shall use the Government Claims Board form, available at https://www.dgs.ca.gov/ORIM/Services/Page-Content/Office-of-Risk-and-Insurance-Management-Services-List-Folder/File-a-Government-Claim
Sacramento County claims should use the following forms: http://www.personnel.saccounty.net/Documents/FilingaClaim.pdf
Therefore, per Government Code § 910, there are certain requirements for the content of the claim. But, pursuant to Government Code § 910.4, the Government will provide the forms for the claims, so it really is just a matter of using the forms provided by the governmental agency, and to make sure that they are filled out accurately.
In San Diego County, these are the pertinent forms: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/CountyCounsel/docs/claim-against-the-county-form.pdf
For claims against the City of San Diego, these are the relevant forms: https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/claim_0.pdf
Section 2 - Time Limits to File the Notice of Claim:
A claim must be filed no later than six months from the accrual of the cause of action. Therefore in a personal injury suit, the accrual of the cause of action would generally be the injury itself. There are exceptions however if it was not obvious that a governmental agency was potentially a culpable party. But, in general, you have six months to file a notice a claim. The clock starts when you were aware of the cause of action, or through reasonable diligence, should have been aware. Failure to file a timely claim can be a complete defense in court for the governmental agency being sued.
If a claim was not timely filed, and the claim is rejected by the governmental agency because of it was not timely, you can still petition the court to relieve you of this requirement, and allow you to proceed forward against the governmental entity. Government Code § 946.6 provides the framework for the process. This petition to the court must be filed within 6 months of the denial of the claim.
The Court will allow you to proceed forward with the lawsuit, even though a claim was not timely filed, if, in their discretion, one of the following applies:
- The failure to present the claim was through mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect unless the public entity establishes that it would be prejudiced in the defense of the claim if the court relieves the petitioner from the requirements of Section 945.4.
- The person who sustained the alleged injury, damage or loss was a minor during all of the time specified in Section 911.2 for the presentation of the claim.
- The person who sustained the alleged injury, damage or loss was physically or mentally incapacitated during all of the time specified in Section 911.2 for the presentation of the claim and by reason of that disability failed to present a claim during that time.
- The person who sustained the alleged injury, damage or loss died before the expiration of the time specified in Section 911.2 for the presentation of the claim.
So, even if the six-month time limit to file the claim is not complied with, most likely by those who had not hired an attorney during the time and had no way of knowing of such a requirement exists, there is still a possibility of getting permission from the Court to disregard that requirement and to allow you to proceed with the lawsuit.
Section 3 - Dealing with Rejection of the Claim:
If your claim is rejected by the government, filing suit is the next step. First, attention needs to be drawn to what is meant by rejection. The Governmental agency has two options for rejection. They can either send a rejection notice letter or do nothing.
If they choose to not send any letter, or a letter that is not in compliance with Government Code § 913, the statute of limitations for filing a suit is two years. If they send a proper rejection letter, the Statute of Limitations for filing suit is six months. A proper rejection letter will contain information providing notice of the applicable statute of limitations, thus the reasoning why a lack of notice extends the Statute of Limitations.
Suing under the Government Claims Act requires a thorough understanding of the law surrounding it. There are certain hoops the Government makes you jump through before you can sue them. Suing the Government is a good example of why the selection of an attorney is critical in Personal Injury matters. There are strict time limits, such as the six-month filing a claim requirement, that must be complied with or it can be the end of your claim. Contact Personal Injury Lawyer Michael Rehm to determine whether you have a suit under the Government Claims Act and if so, what needs to be done next.
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