April 7, 2024 | Article by Matt Clark

Can I sue a public entity if the public entity caused an injury to me or death of a family member?

Yes. In most circumstances a public entity can be sued for the acts of its employees just as if the misconduct had been committed by a private individual or company. However, there are significant limitations to a government entity’s exposure to lawsuits. Therefore, whenever you are considering a case against a government entity, you should quickly consult with an attorney to learn of your rights and limitations. Of particular concern, is a shortened statute of limitations. You only have six months in California to bring a claim against a public entity. If the claim is not brought within six months, in most cases you will lose your rights.

What type of agencies are considered public entities?

Government entities include almost every operation funded by taxpayers’ money. Public entities include public schools, hospitals, police departments, fire departments, bus companies and many other publicly funded institutions.

If my child is injured at school, can I bring a lawsuit on my child’s behalf against a public school?

Yes, under some circumstances. The school authorities have a duty to supervise the conduct of children on school grounds. If you can establish that the child’s injury was caused by a failure of the public school to adequately supervise children, you may be able to bring a case against the school district on behalf of your child.

If I am injured as a result of the dangerous condition of public property, can I bring a lawsuit?

Yes, as long as you can prove: (1) that the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of your injury; (2) that the injury was caused by the dangerous condition; (3) that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury; (4) that the dangerous condition was created by a public employee’s wrongful act or omission; or (5) that the public entity had notice of the condition in time to take protective measures and failed to take those measures. Dangerous condition of public property generally falls into two classes:(1) Cases in which a person trips, falls, or somehow injures himself on a sidewalk, crosswalk, or other public property; or (2) Cases in which dangerous roadways contribute to accidents.

I have heard that public entities have immunity from lawsuits. What does that mean?

An immunity means that by operation of the law, a public entity cannot be held responsible for certain negligent or wrongful acts even if its wrongful conduct clearly caused the plaintiff an injury. There are hundreds of immunities that may or may not apply in your case. Therefore, it is always important to consult with a lawyer early in the case to make sure that there are no immunities that bar your particular case.

Can I sue the police and correctional officers if they cause me an injury?

Rarely. Police and correctional officers are immune from liability in most circumstances as long as they are acting within the course and scope of their employment. There are a number of exceptions to this general immunity, including cases in which a police officer or correctional officer violates a person’s civil rights and cases in which a correctional officer or police officer injures someone in a car accident, although it is virtually impossible to sue a public entity if the plaintiff’s injury stems from a high-speed chase situation or if the vehicle owned by the public entity is on an emergency mission.

If I am injured by an operator of a public entity vehicle, such as a bus, can I sue?

Yes. Other than police officers in chase situations, and emergency vehicles on emergency missions, the operator of any public entity vehicle, including a bus, owes the same duty of care as a private individual to pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles. Further, since a bus is considered a “common carrier”, the public entity owes the bus passengers the highest duty of care recognized under the law which makes cases involving injuries to passengers on a bus easier to win against the bus company than cases against other motorists.

Can I bring a case against the federal government?

Yes. Cases against the federal government are controlled by the Federal Tort Claims Act. The liability of the federal government is the same as that imposed upon a private individual under state law, with a few exceptions. There is no right to a jury trial in a case against the federal government. It can only be decided by a judge or magistrate. Further, plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages against the federal government.

What is the statute of limitations in a case against a government entity in California?

Although there are some exceptions, claims against governmental agencies must be brought within six months from the date of the incident. Therefore, it is very important in any case in which a government entity is a potential defendant to seek consultation with an attorney shortly after the incident. There are exceptions to the six-month claims rule. Therefore, even if you have waited more than six months after an accident to seek the advice of an attorney, you should still arrange for a consultation because you may fall within one of the exceptions.

What damages am I allowed to recover in a case against a public entity?

You are entitled to recover damages against a public entity in the same manner as you would be allowed to recover damages against a private company, with two exceptions. You are not entitled to a recovery of punitive damages against the public entity. The other significant difference is that a government entity can elect to pay judgments that exceed $500,000 by making partial payments over ten years.

Do I need to retain an attorney in a case against a public entity?

Public entities will normally reject all claims. There are a certain number of people who will give up pursuing a claim after it is rejected. These people may believe that they don’t have a good claim because it was rejected. Therefore, it is worthwhile to consult with our office if you have been injured by a public entity.