If you or someone you know has ever been in a car accident, you may already be familiar with the basic process of filing a claim. But there are special rules that apply to tort claims filed against government entities.
Suing a city, county, or state government agency is far more complicated than suing an individual because there are more steps involved, and you have a shorter timeframe within which to file an administrative claim. In this blog, we’ll answer a few FAQs about such claims and provide tips to give your case the best possible chance of success.
1. When Might I Be Able to File a Car Accident Claim Against a Government Entity?
If you were injured or lost a family member in a collision that a government entity or employee caused, you may have grounds for a claim. The two most common scenarios when you would file a car accident claim against a government entity are:
- A dangerous condition on a public road caused the accident; or
- The driver who caused the crash was a government employee and performing duties within the course and scope of his or her employment.
Accidents Caused by Dangerous Conditions on Public Roads
It’s not easy to prove that poor road conditions caused an accident because the government has put strong defenses in place to protect itself; however, there are certain scenarios when a government entity can be held liable for crashes caused by defective road maintenance, defective road construction, defective road design, or failure to adapt the road to changes in vehicle or pedestrian traffic patterns.
For example, you may have grounds for such a claim if your accident was caused by:
- Dangerous curves, slopes, or potholes in the road;
- A missing or defective guardrail;
- An object that obstructed your visibility at an intersection;
- A lack of painted markers;
- Improper or missing traffic signage;
- A road cave-in; or
- Improper drainage that led to hydroplaning.
It is important to note that just because your injury or loss was caused by a public property defect does not necessarily mean you have grounds for a claim against the government. For your case to be successful, all of the following conditions must be satisfied:
- The property where the accident occurred was controlled or owned by a public entity;
- A dangerous condition existed on the property;
- The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the type of accident that occurred;
- The public entity had constructive or actual notice of the dangerous condition a sufficient amount of time before the accident to have taken measures to protect against such an accident, or the dangerous condition was created by the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of a public employee acting within the course and scope of his or her employment; and
- The dangerous condition was a proximate cause of your injury or loss.
“Actual notice” means the public entity had actual knowledge that the issue existed and knew or should have known that it was dangerous. “Constructive notice” means the public entity should have discovered the dangerous condition in the exercise of due care because it was so obvious and had existed for so long.
Proving that all of the above conditions have been satisfied is very complicated and requires a thorough investigation into the accident site and its history. If you intend to file a car accident claim against a public entity due to poor road conditions, it is essential that you consult an attorney with extensive experience handling tort lawsuits against government agencies.
Accidents Caused by Government Vehicles
For the most part, government employees must follow the same traffic laws as every other driver on the road. Of course, there are special rules that apply to emergency services vehicles such as the fire department and police, but even these professionals must follow certain protocols to reduce the risk of causing accidents. If you were hurt in a crash involving a vehicle operated by an employee of the fire department, police department, California Highway Patrol, metro, postal service, or another government entity, you may have grounds for a tort claim against the respective agency.
2. How Long Do I Have to File a Tort Lawsuit Against a Government Entity?
The “statute of limitations” is a legal rule that requires a lawsuit to be filed within a certain time period. If you attempt to file a tort lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, your case will almost certainly be dismissed.
After most car accidents in California, claimants have two years to file a formal lawsuit; however, if you intend to sue a government entity, you must file an administrative claim with the appropriate agency within six months of the date of the accident. If you miss this deadline, you may be precluded from later filing a lawsuit.
The government agency is then required to accept or deny your claim within 45 days. The vast majority of these claims are denied.
If you receive a rejection letter, you must file the lawsuit within six months of the date when the letter was personally delivered to you or mailed. If you do not receive this letter, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date when the accident occurred.
3. What Steps Can I Take to Give My Claim the Best Chance of Success?
Because you have such a short timeframe within which to file an administrative claim against a government agency, it is important that you begin the process immediately. After you leave the crash scene, you should undergo a medical evaluation right away so your injuries can be documented and tied to the accident. You should then contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Here are a few more tips that may put you in a favorable position to file a successful claim:
- Do not discuss your injuries, recovery, or accident on social media. In fact, it is best to disable your accounts or, at the very least, set them to “private;”
- Let your attorney handle all correspondence with the opposing party;
- Follow your doctor’s treatment instructions exactly; and
- Keep a personal journal about how your injuries have affected your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Car Accident Lawyer Today
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
Attorney Michael D. Waks has a track record of success helping the injured and their families pursue the compensation they deserve from government entities in California. He can make sure you meet all relevant deadlines, gather evidence of liability and damages, and handle settlement negotiations on your behalf.
Michael exclusively represents personal injury victims and has a deep understanding of the laws and procedures that govern these cases. He has more than 30 years of experience and holds an AV Preeminent rating from the Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating service.
Your initial consultation is free, and you will never pay any money unless you recover damages for your injuries. Our law firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call. To set up a case evaluation, call (562) 206-1939 or use our Contact Form to send us a message online.