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How Can a Government Liability Lawyer Help?

Government Liability Lawyers

Some liability cases are relatively simple.

For instance, suppose a driver runs a red light and hits your car. They are liable for the damage to your vehicle and any injuries you sustain. In most scenarios like this, the negligent driver’s car insurance company will offer you a settlement. You might choose an experienced personal injury lawyer like those at Chain | Cohn | Clark to represent you so you can negotiate a better settlement or pursue a civil lawsuit against the offending driver.

But the rules are much more complex if your personal injury case involves a government agency—federal, state, county, or city.

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What Is a Government Liability Case?

A government liability case is one in which a government entity harms your person or property or infringes your rights through its employees’ negligent or intentional actions.

Let’s consider the example of the driver who runs a red light and hits your car. Under California law:

  • You have two years to bring a personal injury claim against them.
  • You do not have to fill out any special forms.
  • You can pursue direct legal action against the negligent driver.

Now, suppose the driver is an on-duty police officer responding to an urgent call. The officer runs a red light and hits your car. The police department is a government agency. Therefore, under California law:

  • You have six months to file a personal injury claim.
  • You must file a specific form with the Kern County Board of Supervisors and wait for a response.
  • You can take legal action against the county but not directly against the police officer.

If the police officer had been off-duty and driving as a private citizen, you would have standing to sue them. But because they were acting in their official government capacity, your claim is a government liability claim and is subject to specific legal requirements.

Because government liability claims are technical and often complicated, it’s advisable to seek out the services of knowledgeable government liability attorneys like those at Chain | Cohn | Clark.

Why Are Government Liability Cases Different From Other Personal Injury Cases?

The way government liability cases are handled in the United States can be traced back to medieval English common law practice.

What Is Common Law?

Before it became routine to codify laws, judges decided cases according to common law, that is, according to the precedents and customs established in past cases. Over the course of centuries, common law formed the basis of a full-fledged legal system, and many elements of common law still influence legal practice today.

What Is Sovereign Immunity?

One such common law legal concept is the notion of sovereign immunity. Originally, “sovereign” referred to the king of England. The principle was that no one could sue the king without his permission—essentially, the king was above the law.

In the early United States—despite the fact that the American Revolution had overthrown the British monarch and the country was now ruled by the U.S. Constitution—the concept of sovereign immunity persisted. When the Supreme Court allowed a private citizen to sue the state of Georgia in 1793—not applying sovereign immunity—the states responded by passing the Eleventh Amendment in 1795, which codified sovereign immunity, preventing states from being sued.

For the next century and a half, anyone who was injured due to the negligence of a U.S. government entity could not sue for redress. Believe it or not, the only way they could seek justice for their injury was to petition Congress to pass a private bill awarding them compensation!

What Happens After I File a Government Liability Claim?

After you file a claim with the appropriate agency according to the provisions of the California Tort Claims Act, the government agency has 45 days to review and either approve or deny your claim. If the agency doesn’t reply within 45 days, the claim is considered denied.

If your claim is approved, you receive the claimed compensation and the process is complete.

If your claim is denied, you can choose to pursue a civil lawsuit with the help of a government liability lawyer. However, you cannot file a government liability lawsuit without first filing a claim with the agency or department in question according to the foregoing requirements.

What Damages Can I Collect in a Government Liability Case?

A claim against a government entity in California allows you to claim the following types of damages:

  • Economic damages, such as reimbursement for medical expenses due to an injury or the cost of repairing your damaged property.
  • Noneconomic damages, such as compensation for the pain and suffering you incur due to your injuries or the loss of a loved one.

In general, you cannot collect punitive damages—damages intended to punish defendants who are exceptionally or intentionally negligent—in a claim against a government entity.

Federal Sovereign Immunity

However, in the mid-20th century, the federal government passed a law waiving some of its sovereign immunity. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), adopted in 1946, allows individuals to pursue personal injury claims against federal government agencies under limited conditions through the means described in the Act.

California Sovereign Immunity

In the 1960s, California and other state governments followed the federal government’s example by passing laws that waived their sovereign immunity. California’s 1963 Government Claims Act—often referred to as the California Tort Claims Act—lays out the conditions and procedures for pursuing a claim against state or local government entities in California.

Pursuing a California Government Liability Case

The California Tort Claims Act, like the FTCA on the national level, doesn’t completely waive the government’s right to sovereign immunity. So, the steps you take in a government liability lawsuit are different from the steps you take in an ordinary personal injury lawsuit.

Let’s explore some of the unique requirements in a government liability case.

Shorter Statute of Limitations

In most personal injury cases in California, you must file a claim within two years of when you were injured or your property was damaged. This time limit is called the statute of limitations on personal injury claims.

In government liability cases, the statute of limitations is only six months (California Government Code Section 911.2). If you don’t file within six months, your claim will almost certainly be rejected.

Requirements for Filing Government Liability Claims

Many California government entities have a specific form that you must fill out to make a government liability claim. If the agency that harmed you doesn’t have its own form, you can file a claim by sending a letter with the following information:

  1. Your name and address
  2. The address you choose for receiving correspondence about your claim
  3. A description of the events surrounding your claim, including where and when they occurred
  4. A description of the injuries or damages you incurred
  5. The name(s) of the government employees who caused the injuries or damage
  6. The amount of compensation you’re claiming if the amount is less than $10,000; if you’re claiming more than $10,000, you must indicate whether you intend to pursue a limited civil case (less than $25,000) or an unlimited civil case (greater than $25,000)

A government liability lawyer can ensure that your claim is filed on time and includes all the required information.

An attorney’s advice may be especially helpful in determining the approximate amount of your claim. A government liability lawyer has the experience to review your case history and estimate the value of your claim—and you may be surprised by how much you underestimate it.

Here are some examples of forms for filing government liability claims in California:

The Bakersfield Department of Risk Management provides a form for claims against the city of Bakersfield.

Examples of Government Liability Claims

Because government agencies operate in so many different areas of life, government liability claims also vary dramatically. For example, you may file a claim for:

  • A government employee’s negligence while driving a government vehicle
  • Premises liability—that is, unsafe conditions on the premises of a government agency that result in an injury
  • Unsafe road conditions that cause an injury; for example, if the city has been notified about a large pothole and takes no action to fill it in, it may be liable for damage to your car if you inadvertently hit the pothole
  • Injuries at a public school resulting from the negligence of school personnel
  • Insufficient safety precautions at a public event that result in injuries or deaths

Our Government Liability Lawyers Know Local Government

If you’re considering a claim against a California, Kern County, or Bakersfield government department or agency, you might be tempted to seek out a glitzy L.A. law firm. But there’s a strong case for choosing a local law firm like Chain | Cohn | Clark to handle your government liability case.

Chain | Cohn | Clark has nearly ninety years of history in Bakersfield, and most of our lawyers are Bakersfield natives. We have more insight into local government issues because we live here, too—and not in a passive way; we have extensive involvement in the Bakersfield community. In addition, we know the legal community and ins and outs of the area’s courts—knowledge that will work to your advantage when we take on your government liability case.

Bakersfield Government Liability Lawyers

A case against a government entity in California faces multiple procedural hurdles, including:

  • Determining whether a claim is allowed under the California Tort Claims Act
  • Filing within the six-month statute of limitations
  • Filing the appropriate form
  • Calculating the approximate value of the claim

When you’re dealing with property damage or mounting medical bills due to injuries, the technicalities of a government liability claim can be daunting. The government liability attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark can bear the administrative and procedural burden and help you make informed decisions about how to carry your case forward.

Our lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means you don’t pay anything out of pocket for our representation. We only get paid if you win your case, and even then, our fee is only a small percentage of your overall award.

If you’ve been injured or had property damaged due to the negligence of a government employee or entity, contact us today to discuss your options, free of charge and without any further obligation.

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