A Brief Introduction Into The California Tort Claim System
Sometimes the government does something to cause you harm. Such injuries can run the gamut and can include torts such as failing to place a stop light at a dangerous intersection, neglecting to fix a damaged sidewalk, a police officer engaging in excessive force or a social worker causing your child to be taken away without due cause. If you believe that a government agency or employee has caused you harm, you must likely file a Tort Claim right away. This is because a claim for personal injury, death of for damage or destruction of growing crop must be presented within 6 months of the accrual of the cause of action (or 182 days, whichever is longer). See Government Code § 911.2.
Anyone can file a claim on their own behalf and there is no age limitation in the Government Code. It is a common practice for parents to sign claim forms on behalf of their children. However, the fact that a parent signs the claim for a child does not satisfy the requirement that the parent must also present his or her own claim? So, every person, who believes they have been harmed must make sure to file their own claim.
The necessary places to a valid claim are:
· The name and address of the claimant.
· The address where notices are 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.
Some government agencies provide a claims form to be used. If you fully complete that form, there is a presumption under the law that it is in compliance with the Tort Claims Act.
While the claimant may deliver the Tort Claim in person, a claimant may also choose to simply place the Claim in any United States Post Office receptacle. It need not be certified mail (though for proof purposes, this is a good idea). The Claim is deemed to have been presented at the time of the deposit. Government Code § 915.2
The government agency has a limited time to respond once a tort claim is served and if it does not act within certain time frames, they can lose certain rights. Generally, however, public entities typically reject Tort Claims. Once the rejection letter is received, a party has only 6 months to file a lawsuit based on California state law claims.
One other issue regarding prisoners or jail inmates is important. If the claimant is in jail state prison, he or she must still file a Tort Claim within 6 months! Government Code § 945.6. This is even though the inmate or detainee is forbidden by state law (though not federal) from commencing a legal action based on their arrest for state law claims. Government Code §945.3. So if you or a loved one has been arrested or had any negative dealings with law enforcement and you feel your civil rights have been violated, it is critical that you seek legal advice right away, rather than waiting for the criminal case to conclude.