Injured by a public entity? Move quickly or forever lose your rights to pursue compensation! Normally, if you are injured by another private individual, you have two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. However, if you are injured by a California public entity, the law requires that you follow very specific steps in a very short time-period in order to preserve your rights!
A public entity includes the obvious, like police officers, firefighters, county or city employees, county court employees, etc…But what is not obvious maybe are employees of public utilities, like San Diego Gas and Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric, Fresno Flood Control District, Modesto Irrigation District, etc… These may be privately or publicly owned, but they fall into the public utilities category and the Government Code as well. They are essentially quasi-public entities because they serve a public function, even though they maybe privately owned. So, you must be extremely careful if you suspect that the person that injured you was working in any way for a public entity or quasi-public entity at the time of the accident. If he or she was working as a public employee at the time of the accident, then you must act fast! Here’s what you must do.
Within 6 months of the injury, you must a file claim with that specific entity that caused your injury. Government Code Section 911.2(a) and (b) states “A claim relating to a cause of action for death or for injury to person [must be filed] not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action.”
Typically, most public entities have their own “claim form.” Use it. This has all the necessary information to file a claim that is compliant with the Government Code. Call and ask the entity about the claim form. They are required to provide it to you if you ask (and if they have one). If in the off-chance they do not have one, then you can write one yourself but it MUST include the following information or else it can be deemed insufficient and you must jump through more hoops. (see Government Code Section 910.8) If they have a claim form, fill it out completely and take it to where they want you to file it (it’s usually on the claim form). They usually stamp it or give some type of official seal. Take more than one copy just in case. If you have to make up your own claim form, you must have the following in it:
(a) The name and post office address of the claimant.
(b) The post office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent.
(c) The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted.
(d) A general description of the indebtedness, obligation, injury, damage or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of presentation of the claim.
(e) The name or names of the public employee or employees causing the injury, damage, or loss, if known.
(f) The amount claimed if it totals less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed. If the amount claimed exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), no dollar amount shall be included in the claim. However, it shall indicate whether the claim would be a limited civil case. (Government Code Section 910)
Last, you MUST sign it. (Government Code Section 910.2)
After you have properly filed the claim within the required time-period. You now have to wait for whether or not the claim will be accepted or denied. The code actually says “reject” or “allow”. From my own experience, even a legally valid claim is usually denied by a public entity. I don’t know why, I just know a majority of my cases against public entities are denied after I file the claim. Now, you have to be very very diligent because there are deadlines that will pop up quickly.
After you file a proper claim, the public entity has 45 days to respond. If they respond within 45 days, and they deny your claim, then you have 6 months from that date they responded (look on the letter), to file a lawsuit to preserve your rights to pursue compensation.
If they do not respond within 45 days, the claim is deemed automatically denied. That means, at that 45 day mark from when you filed the claim, you have 6 months now to file a lawsuit to preserve your rights to pursue compensation.
If they accept your claim (rare), then you still have 6 months from the date they accepted your claim (again, look at the date on the letter), to settle your case. If you cannot settle your case within that 6 month period, you must still file a lawsuit to preserve your rights to pursue compensation.
These are very strict deadlines. If you miss the first 6 month claim statute, you must file an Application for Leave to Present a Late Claim with the public entity that caused you harm (this requirement is sort of comical because you’re essentially asking the same public entity to forgive you for not filing the claim on time so that you can sue them! Really? Guess what usually happens? They deny the claim for being late. I don’t know why it was written like that, so don’t ask. I didn’t write it.) If (it should really say “when”) that public entity denies your claim, then you must file a Petition for Leave to Present a Late Claim with the court within 1 year of the date of injury. These are very specific time deadlines that you must follow.
A Rule of Thumb I usually abide by is the 6 Plus 6 Rule. Regardless of the case, if I have even the slightest belief that a public or quasi-public entity is involved, I will go ahead and file the claim within 6 months after the injury. Then, whatever happens, whether or not the case is rejected/denied or accepted/allowed, I will go ahead and file a lawsuit 6 months after I filed the claim. I don’t wait for a rejection or denial notice. I don’t wait for a public or quasi-public entity’s response. This way, I don’t risk missing the deadline to file the lawsuit.