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Ravn R. Whitington: Watch out for trucks, timing is everything

 

The feeling of being hit by a truck. A sensation universally accepted as particularly unpleasant, but one often shrouded in hyperbole. Not here. In Cavey v. Tualla et al., the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, on Sept. 24, 2021, issued a decision concerning the literal and figurative hitting by a truck.

On May 8, 2017, near Fresno, California, Ashley Cavey was riding as a passenger in a vehicle when it was struck by pickup truck driven by Policarpio Tacas Tualla, Jr., who allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. Mr. Tualla was employed by Kings Canyon Unified School District and the truck he was driving was owned the District. How Mr. Tualla was behind the wheel in the first place is puzzling given allegations he had been in three prior accidents working for the District and was known to be taking medication for epilepsy. But, such are the facts.

To bring suit against the District for her injuries, Ms. Cavey was required to comply with the Government Claims Act, which sets forth the ground rules for suing government entities and employees for recovery of monetary damages for bodily injury or death. The Act is comprehensive and complicated, but, in short, it makes suing the government a more onerous task than suing a private citizen. No surprise there.



A critical difference between suing a public entity and suing the average joe is the shorter time allowed to file a complaint. In the typical personal injury case, the deadline to file litigation is commonly two years from the date of the accident. But when suing a public entity for personal injury, a claim must be submitted to the responsible entity within six months of the accident and litigation must be filed within six months of denial of the claim. Failure to timely submit a claim or file a complaint will bar an injured person from obtaining any compensation for injuries suffered at the hands of a public entity. As if litigating against the government isn’t daunting enough, the truncated deadlines add an additional hurdle. In Cavey, the District attempted to take full and unfair advantage.

Following the collision Ms. Cavey sought treatment from a chiropractor for some of her ailments. Unbeknownst to Ms. Cavey, the chiropractor submitted a claim to the District for the cost of chiropractic services rendered. The District rejected the claim and sent the rejection to Ms. Cavey’s attorneys who thought the claim related to another person because it was devoid of any substantive information and it being entirely out of the ordinary for a government claim to be submitted by someone other than the injured person or their attorney. The attorneys for Ms. Cavey then submitted a claim to the District, and when the District did not respond, filed a lawsuit.




The District argued that Ms. Cavey’s lawsuit should be dismissed because it was not filed within six months of the District rejecting the chiropractor’s claim – timeliness technicality where Ms. Cavey was unaware of a deadline triggered by a claim she never knew existed. The court of appeal sensibly denied the District’s tactic. For the purpose of the Government Claims Act, a claim presented on behalf of an injured person is only valid if the person “knowingly and intentionally authorized” the claim. As Ms. Cavey did not authorize, or even know about, the chiropractor’s claim, the court held the claim had “no legal effect.” The court determined that because Ms. Cavey’s lawsuit was otherwise timely filed, she is entitled to her full day in court.

The Cavey case illustrates the Kafkaesque procedural quagmire that routinely serves as an impediment to seeking recourse through litigation, especially when against government entities. But for Ms. Cavey, the court got it right. So, chalk one up for the little guy – or woman, in this instance.

Ravn R. Whitington is a partner at Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada. Ravn is a member of the firm’s Trial Practice Group where he focuses on all aspects of civil litigation. He has a diverse background in trial practice ranging from complex business disputes to personal injury to construction law, and all matters in between. He may be reached at whitington@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com


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