Personal Injury Claims Against California Government Entities
Generally the rule for bringing a law suit in regards to a personal injury matter is two years from the date of injury. However, there are many exceptions to that rule. One of the biggest exceptions to the general rule is any claim related to a government entity.
An example would be if a person was involved in an accident with a MUNI bus in San Francisco, CA. If you are injured as a result of an accident with a MUNI bus, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. If you fail to act quickly, your claim may be preempted by a statute of limitations issue.
Statute of Limitations Generally
Under a legal rule known as the "statute of limitations," any lawsuit arising from an accident or injury must be filed within a certain time limit or the injured person's legal claim will be barred and his or her right to sue will be lost forever. Every state has enacted its own statute of limitations, requiring any personal injury suit be filed in court within a set time after the incident or injury. The specific limit prescribed by each state ranges from one to six years. In California, pursuant to Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. Sec. 335.1, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is generally two years.
The Statute of Limitations and Personal Injury Claims Against the Government
If your personal injury suit involves a claim against a federal, state, local government entity, or a government employee, you will most likely need to follow strict guidelines in bringing a lawsuit, including the requirement that you file a "notice of claim" within as few as 6 months after your injury. This is because governments and their subdivisions are usually entitled to what is known as "immunity" to liability and lawsuits, meaning that they cannot ordinarily be sued without permission.
Most governments, like in California, have enacted laws that contain rules for filing an injury claim against them. Through these laws (usually called "Tort Claims Acts"), federal, state, and city governments have conditionally given up or "waived" immunity to legal liability for an accident or injury. Note that if you do not follow the rules in these laws (including giving the government prompt notice of your injury claim), you will lose the right to receive any compensation for injuries caused by the government.
Notice of Claim
In California, if you are involved in any accident in which a government agency or employee is involved (even in a minimal role), you should file a notice of claim as soon as possible, regardless of whether the government's fault is clear at the time.
If you are harmed by a state, county or local government employee, or because of state, county or local government property like MUNI, BART, CALTRANS, SAM TRANS, or other public agency, you have 6 months, under Cal. Government Code Sec. 910 from the date you were injured, to file a claim with the proper authority or you may be precluded from later bringing a lawsuit. As mentioned above, this is a pre-filing notice requirement that allows the governmental agency to move quickly to prevent further injury and to predict, for budgeting purposes, what their liability exposure is for the next year. You must use the claim form of the particular governmental agency when filing a claim and you must file it with the proper authority.
Federal Governement Injury Claims
If you are injured on federal property, or because of the negligence of a federal government employee, a different claims statute applies. You need to use a different claim form depending on which Federal Agency is responsible for your injury.
What Happens Next
Your claim will either be accepted (which is rare) or denied by the government, generally within 45 days. If your claim is denied, you are then free to file a lawsuit and attempt to hold the government liable through the civil court process. It may help to think of the notice of claim-filing requirement as a prerequisite to any formal civil lawsuit that can later be filed against the government.
For specific information about the requirements and procedure for filing a government-related injury claim, call or write to the government agency that was involved in the incident. If you are unsure which branch of government may ultimately be responsible (i.e. city, county, or state), it is always best to err on the side of caution and submit a claim to each agency that may be at fault (to any extent) for causing your injuries.
State laws are frequently revised from year-to-year, so it is important to speak with an attorney to understand how the current laws will apply in your case, especially in areas as critical as the statute of limitations.