Law Review: A claim must be timely filed before suing a public entity
If you are injured and want to sue a public entity, you may do so under the law. That’s the good news. But laws in California and other states don’t want to make it too easy to do so. California for example requires that you file a claim with the public entity before filing a lawsuit. No claim, no lawsuit.
SERIOUS INJURY FROM A FALL ON A BUS
Eighty-year-old Treasure Andrews sued the Metropolitan Transit System in San Diego (and the bus driver) after she fell and broke her hip. She claimed the driver “negligently accelerated” before she was able to sit down. She sought approximately $500,000. San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System defended the lawsuit claiming it was not timely filed.
PROCEDURAL STEPS BEFORE SUING A PUBLIC ENTITY
Be forewarned. This is a little technical but there are unique hurdles and deadlines that you must follow when you sue a public agency or public entity.
Suits for money or damages against a public entity are regulated by the Government Claims Act. Before suing, a claim for personal injury or property damage must be filed with the entity within six months of the incident, all other claims must be filed with the agency within a year. That is the first trip-wire.
PUBLIC ENTITY’S RESPONSE TO A CLAIM
The public entity must within 45 days of a claim for injuries or property damage: reject the claim (the usual), allow the claim (rare) or compromise the claim (also rare). If the agency does nothing, the claim is deemed rejected.
Regardless of whether the public entity accepts or rejects the claim, it must within 45 days give a very specific written notice to the claimant. The written notice to the claimant is required to state that a lawsuit must be filed within six months after the notice. If written notice is not given – precisely as required – any lawsuit must be commenced within two years from the accrual of the cause of action (usually the accident/incident).
FAULTY NOTICE OF REJECTION OF CLAIM
In Treasure Andrews’ case, San Diego’s rejection notice of the claim left out some of the language required by the Government Code, language suggesting she immediately contact an attorney.
Andrews filed a lawsuit eight months after the rejection notice so if the rejection notice was perfect she would have to sue within six months. If the rejection notice did not include all the required specific language, she would have had two years to sue. The trial code found the rejection notice substantially complied, and threw Andrews’ lawsuit out the door.
COURT OF APPEAL REVERSES RULING
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled for Andrews finding San Diego’s claim rejection notice was not precisely as legally required, so the two year deadline to sue ruled. Andrews’ suit was reinstated.
A little too much legalese here but I want you to understand the Government Claim Act requirements. Confer with an attorney as there are exceptions.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com
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