A claim for personal injury or death against a state or local governmental entity is governed by the California Government Claims Act. Under this act, no suit for money damages may be brought against a city, state or municipal government (or government employee acting within the scope of employment) unless a timely claim has been presented to the entity within 6 months after your injury. For example, if you are injured in a public park due to the negligent maintenance, design or upkeep of that park you must notify that entity of your claim within the 6 month period. Local governmental entities usually have basic forms to fill-out describing the time, place and nature of your injuries.
Governmental Entity Action
After receiving your claim, the governmental entity has 45 days to either accept or reject your claim. If the entity finds the claim is a proper charge against it and is for an amount justly due, it will accept the claim. In all other instances the entity will reject the claim. If the entity takes no action within 45 days, the claim is deemed rejected by law.
Time to File Suit After Rejection
Once the public entity rejects your claim, you must commence your lawsuit within 6 months of notice of the rejection by the entity. Only if the governmental entity fails to give notice of rejection will you be able to have the full two year statute of limitations period to file suit.
Public entities may be able to gain immunity from liability for their actions and those of their employees in a certain situations. For example, a public entity is not liable for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition created by a negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee in the scope of employment if the public entity establishes that the act or omission that created the injury-causing condition was reasonable. The "reasonableness" of the act is determined by weighing the probability and gravity of potential injury against the practicability and cost of taking action that would not create risk of injury or of protecting against the risk of injury.
Also, a public entity is not liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity on public property. This includes such activities as diving, mountain biking, rock climbing, hang gliding, surfing, water-skiing and body contact sports.
If you have been injured on public property, waiting to file your claim may preclude recovery altogether. Furthermore, governmental entities have various defenses that are not available to the average property owner. It is essential that you meet with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible if you think you may have a valid claim.
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