Government Liability Claims in California
People are often injured by an employee of the government, or because of some dangerous condition on property owned or controlled by the government. A governmental agency can be the State, the County, a City, water districts, school districts, hospital boards, or any number of other governmental agencies. At first glance the responsible party may not appear to be owned, or controlled by a governmental agency, however.
When a vehicle accident occurs, and the driver of the vehicle is an employee of the government, or the vehicle is owned by the government, it is more easily apparent that a government is involved. However, if the accident is due to property that is owned or controlled by the government, then the potential defendant is not as obvious.
Liability can arise out of such things as the following:
- Poorly designed abutments;
- Poorly designed roads;
- Poorly maintained construction zones;
- Inadequate lighting and/or signage;
- Poor road design;
- Surface problems or defects such as potholes, loose gravel, uneven surfaces;
- Poorly designed or placement and/or lay out in a park, or playing field;
- Inadequate supervision of a playground.
Dangerous conditions on government property can be found on streets, roads, sidewalks, parks, playing fields,, or a host of other areas. However, what is significant, and most important, is that the agency be recognized, and discovered. This is due to the special rules that are related to suing a governmental agency.
In years past (decades ago), no governmental agency, nor the government or it’s employees were allowed to be sued. This was “common law”, under the theory that “the King can do no wrong”. This is also known as “sovereign immunity”. However, the legislatures passed laws that allowed individuals to sue the government. In general these laws (aka statutes) are found at Government Code §820 et seq. However, before any lawsuit can be filed, the injured party must file a claim with the responsible agency or agencies. This claim must be filed within 6 months of the date of the injury. The filing of a claim must meet the statutory requirements as to what is in the claim.
The failure to timely file the necessary claim may (and most likely will) prohibit, or prevent the injured party from seeking any kind of relief against the responsible agency. Again the necessity of contacting an attorney early so as to insure that the responsible agency is identified, and that a claim is timely filed.
After the claim is filed the government agency has a limited amount of time to accept or reject the claim, and provide notice to the claimant. Upon the expiration of that time, the injured party then has 6 months to file a lawsuit.
When the government gave it’s permission to be sued, it also set up a number of special defenses that are not normally seen in the non government context. These special defenses are also set forth in the Government Code noted above. Please note that these time frames are effective as of 2010, and can change in the future.