Public entities, state agencies, and government employees are not entirely immune from lawsuits if they cause an accident. However, the law provides only a small window to file a claim against the government for damages. At Williams Iagmin, LLP, we have an intricate knowledge of government tort liability in California. We are here to help our clients navigate the complex legal process to get the compensation they deserve.
A government entity might be liable if you were injured on public premises or by a government employee. Here are some of the most common scenarios that give rise to government liabilities:
Injured at a public park or recreation area. The government must maintain parks and recreational areas in a safe condition. Thus, the government is responsible for injuries caused by dangerous conditions at public parks, playgrounds, and recreational areas. For example, the federal government may be liable for injuries at national parks, and the municipal government may be responsible for injuries on local playgrounds.
Injured at a government building. The government must maintain its facilities in a safe condition. As such, the government must inspect the property, repair any potentially dangerous conditions, and warn of any hazards on the property. Failure to do so may give rise to premises liability for the government. Common premises liability injuries include:
Injured by a government vehicle. Government employees must operate government vehicles with due care. Thus, the government may be liable for injuries caused by the negligent operation of official vehicles like buses, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and postal trucks.
A gentleman suffered a severe brain injury when a city truck struck his car from behind.
Injured by unsafe road or sidewalk conditions. The government must maintain public roads and sidewalks in a safe condition. Thus, the government may be responsible for accidents caused by inadequate signage, negligent maintenance (such as potholes and road defects), negligent design (such as dangerous intersections, ramps, and curves), and improper traffic control (especially near construction zones).
Injured by a government employee. The government must adequately hire and train employees to maintain a safe workplace. Thus, the government may be liable if an employee commits an assault, sexual harassment, or other abuse towards another employee or a member of the public. The government must investigate complaints about specific workers and take reasonable steps to curb abusive activities by government employees. The government should perform criminal background checks on all job applicants, especially for jobs that work with children, elderly people, or other vulnerable populations.
Two female law enforcement officers suffered severe emotional distress when their supervisor secretly video-recorded them in the bathroom.
Injured on public transportation. The government must ensure that public transport is safe for passengers and pedestrians. The government may be liable when a person is hurt or killed by a train, trolley, bus, or other public transport. Lack of adequate safety precautions, inadequate operator training, and other forms of negligence may cause public transportation accidents.
Injury or abuse at a public school. San Diego is home to dozens of high schools and several universities. Public schools must keep their students safe. Thus, the school and school district may be liable for assault, sexual assault, bullying, and other types of harassment that take place at school. Schools are obligated to take reasonable steps to prevent these attacks from happening.
A young lady was seduced by her high school teacher. The teacher’s co-workers failed to report their suspicions about the affair.
Excessive force, police shootings, and civil rights violations. Citizens can hold the government liable for police misconduct, such as excessive force and unreasonable searches and seizures. Concerns over excessive force have mounted in recent years, particularly regarding the use of deadly force by police officers.
Injured at a government construction site. The government may be liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on its property. Construction sites and places under repair require extra care (such as highway construction zones). Poor signage, debris, falling objects, failure to follow safety rules, and other forms of negligence may cause construction site accidents.
Injured due to failed emergency response. Responding to emergencies is a specific governmental duty. The government may be liable for failed emergency response, such as if a publicly funded fire station ignores a call to put out a house fire. Failed emergency response may be due to improper training, lack of supervision, or poor executive-level decision-making.
The proper method for filing a government claim depends on which government entity is responsible for the injuries. The responsible entity may be part of the federal, state, or local government. Each branch of government has its own procedures for filing personal injury claims. To file a government claim correctly, you must:
Failure to meet these criteria can cause you to forfeit your legal rights.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (”FCTA”) governs claims against the federal government, its agencies, and employees. Individuals, businesses, and government entities may make claims under the FCTA.
The FCTA sets forth the procedures for resolving claims for personal injury, property damage, or death caused by federal employees acting within the scope of their official duties. Federal employees generally are not personally liable for injuries they cause while doing their job. Under the FCTA, the United States is responsible to the extent the employee would be. Thus, the FCTA substitutes the United States as the defendant in place of the individual employee.
The FCTA does not extend to independent contractors. Thus, the federal government does not indemnify independent contractors. Independent contractors are liable for the harm they cause, just as any other private person would be. As such, independent contractors often carry their own professional liability insurance.
Whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee is determined on a case-by-case basis. The analysis focuses on the federal government’s degree of control over the employee, but this is not the only element of the inquiry. Other factors include the payment method, who provides liability insurance, and who supplies the tools and materials used in work.
To file a federal claim, the claimant must file an administrative claim within two years, demonstrating that their claim satisfies all elements of the FCTA. The claimant may file such documentation using Standard Form 95, though the use of the form is not mandatory. The claim must include the claimant’s signature (or the signature of their attorney), sufficient information to investigate the allegations, and a specific monetary demand.
The claimant should file the claim with the federal agency that is to blame for the accident. For example, if a postal truck hits someone, they should file the claim with the U.S. Postal Service. The federal agency has six months to respond to the claim. If the agency rejects the claim wholly or partially, the claimant has six months to file a lawsuit against the agency.
The claimant must file the lawsuit in the correct court. Generally, this will be the U.S. District Court where the claimant resides, or the injuries occurred. The claimant cannot sue the federal government in state court.
The FTCA does not have a damages cap. However, the lawsuit may not ask for more money than the claimant requested in their administrative claim (unless new evidence is discovered). Estimating damages in a personal injury case typically requires the knowledge and skill of an experienced attorney. Thus, we recommend contacting an experienced government liability lawyer immediately if a government entity or employee injures you.
The California Tort Claims Act (‘’CTCA’’) dictates when a person can sue the state government or government employees for personal injury. Under the CTCA, the government is liable for its employee’s negligence if the employee acted within the scope of their employment. This rule also applies to independent contractors.
Unlike other personal injury claims, the CTCA requires the injured person to file an administrative notice for damages within six months from the date of the injury. This notice must include the victim’s contact information, an explanation of the accident and injuries, a general description of all damages claimed, how the costs were calculated, whether the case is filed as a “limited civil case,” and if known, the names of the government employees at fault for the injuries. The government has 45 days to review the notice and accept or reject the claims. If the government denies any or all of the claims, the claimant can file a lawsuit.
The CTCA does not have a damages cap. As such, the claimant may sue for economic and non-economic damages resulting from the accident. Such damages include medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, wrongful death, and other damages. The CTCA does not allow for punitive damages, typically awarded to punish and deter egregious conduct.
The California Tort Claims Act governs all claims against local governments and municipalities within California. However, each local government and municipality has its own process for filing claims. As such, it is necessary to research the claims procedure for the city, county, or municipality responsible for the accident.
For example, to file a claim against the City of San Diego, the claimant must submit a notice of the claim within six months from the date of the injury. The notice must include the victim’s contact information, the basis of the claim, a description of the damages, how the costs were calculated, whether the case is filed as a “limited civil case,” the claimant’s signature, and other specific details related to the case.
Government claims have strict procedural requirements. Submitting the claim late, incorrectly, or incompletely can cause you to forfeit your legal rights. As such, having an experienced government liability attorney submit your claim is best.
However, you have to act fast. Call or contact us today at Williams Iagmin, LLP, for a free consultation for your case. We have the knowledge, experience, and proven track record to get you the compensation you deserve.
Federal Tort Claims Act
Standard Form 95
California Tort Claims Act
California Department of General Services – File Government Claim for Eligible Compensation
California Courts – Statute of Limitations
City of San Diego – Claim Against the City of San Diego
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