Claims Against Public Entities In California
California Claims Act: Restrictions/LimitationsLimitations: No lawsuit for money damages may be brought against a governmental entity unless a written claim has been properly filed within the six-month time limit. So, even if you are injured by the government and do not currently intend to sue, you should still consider filing a claim in order to protect your rights and to keep your options open.
The California Tort Claims Act sets out the procedures you must follow when filing a claim against the government for money damages. This guide describes the most significant parts of the Act. This guide is based on the laws in effect at the date of its writing, which are, of course, subject to change. Also, depending on the type of action you are bringing, other procedures and time lines may apply. It is recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in the relevant area of law (for example, personal injury or medical malpractice) to get more specific information about your potential claims and time lines.
What Is Public Entity?Government Code section 900.2 defines "board" as:
(a) In the case of a local public entity, the governing body of the local public
(b) In the case of the State, the State Board of Control
When Is A Claim Necessary?You might choose to sue the government for a variety of reasons. Some reasons might be that a governmental entity has violated your rights, or it is responsible for a death, physical injury, or property damage. If the government injures you, this injury is called a "tort." The person filing the "tort claim," usually the injured person is called the "claimant." In most cases, you, as the claimant, must file a tort claim if you are trying to get money or "damages" from the governmental entity. Gov't Code sections 905, 905.2.
Who May File A Claim?You may file a claim against a governmental entity on your own behalf or on behalf of someone else who was injured. Gov't Code sections 910, 910.2. An "injury" includes not only physical injury, but also damage to personal property (possessions) and violations of protected rights. You must be 18 yrs old (adult age) and/or older. If you are a minor, your guardian ad litem will file and sign the claim on your behalf.
How And Where To File A Claim?You can file a claim against a county or local governmental entity or employee directly with the entity's governing board or clerk. You may deliver the claim in person or by mail. Gov't Code section 915(a). Some governmental entities have their own claim forms. You may want to contact them to obtain such a form. Their forms will have a mailing address. So long as you include all the required information, it is not necessary that you use the entity's particular form.
IF YOU SUE THE STATE: You can file a claim against the state or a state agency or employee with the State Board of Control (SBC), by delivering it to any local SBC office or by mailing it to the main office. Gov't Code section 915(b). The address for the main SBC office in Sacramento is:
State Board of Control
Government Claims Branch
P.O. Box 3035
Sacramento, CA 95812-3035.
(916) 323-3564 (voice)
(916) 323-5768 (fax)
Contents Of The ClaimAccording to section 910 of the Government Code, a claim against a governmental entity must contain the following:
(A) Your name (the claimant's name) and post office address;
(B) The post office address where you want to receive notices;
(C) The date, place, and circumstances of the occurrence giving rise to the claim (that is, describe what happened and how you were injured);
(D) A general description of the injury, damage, or loss;
(E) The name(s) of the government employee(s) causing the injury, if known;
(F) If the amount is less than $10,000, the dollar amount claimed (including an estimate of future injury) and the basis for computing the amount; and
(G) If the amount is greater than $10,000, you do not have to set out a specific amount on the claim form. You must, however, indicate whether the case would be a "limited civil case." Gov't Code section 910(f) and California Civil Code of Procedure sections 85, 86.
TIME RESTRICTION: Timeliness Of The Claim: (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT)The California Tort Claims Act sets out strict timelines that you must follow when filing a claim against a governmental entity. You must file a claim for personal injury (that is, one based on death, physical injury, or damage to personal property) within SIX MONTHS of the date of the injury. Gov't Code section 911.2.
If you did not know the reason for filing the claim at the time of injury (for example, in some medical malpractice cases), the SIX-MONTH time period begins at the point when you became aware, or should have become aware, of the reason. See, for example, Whitfield v. Roth (1974) 10 C.3d 874, 112 Cal Rptr 540.
After The Claim Is Filed:After you file a claim, the board/entity MUST respond (allow or reject the claim in whole
or in part) within 45 days. Gov't Code sections 912.6(a), 912.4(c).
If The Claim Is Rejected:The board must notify you of its action on the claim (or its rejection through failure
to act). If the board rejects the claim in whole or in part, you have another six months
from the date the notification is mailed to file a lawsuit against the governmental
entity. Gov't Code sections 913, 945.6(a)(1).
If the board fails to notify you of its action (or inaction), such failure is treated as a
rejection of the claim (as discussed above) and you have two years from the date
of the injury to file suit. Gov't Code section 945.6(a)(2).
If you are unable to file suit within the prescribed time period because you are in
prison, you must file suit within six months of regaining the right to do so (that is,
being released). Gov't Code section 945.6(b).
Damages amount:Limited or Unlimited?
Whether a case is a "limited civil case" depends on the amount of money damages
you are asking for and what else you are asking the governmental entity to do.
Generally, a case is a limited civil case if the amount of money you are seeking is
less than $25,000 (not including reasonable attorney fees and costs) and you are
not asking for any of the following:
1. A permanent injunction (that is, a court order granted after a final hearing
which commands or prevents the governmental entity from taking the
action complained about);
2. A determination of title to real property;
3. Enforcement of an order under the Family Code; or - 4 -
4. Declaratory relief (asking the court to make a statement which establishes
the rights and other legal relations of the parties without ordering
enforcement), except as is allowed by Code of Civil Procedure section
86. Code of Civil Procedure section 580.