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Lawsuits Against Public Entities

Sometimes, you must file a lawsuit against the government or one of its agencies for any number of reasons. If you are involved in a traffic accident on a public roadway or hurt yourself due to a dangerous condition in a public park or on a public beach, or are harmed while a patient in a public hospital, you may have to file a lawsuit for compensation against the federal government, the state, or a city.

If you have to file a lawsuit against a public entity, the claim will be subject to either the Federal Torts Claim Act (for harm on federal property or by a federal employee), or in California, the California Claims Act.

Before suing the state of California or one of its public entities, you must present a written claim for personal injury damages to the government entity that caused the harm. That written claim, which is a mandatory precursor to a lawsuit, must be filed within six months after the claim accrues. The written claim must contain specific information, including your name; address; a general description of the accident; the date, time, and location where the accident occurred; and the damage it caused. It is also a good idea to include the names of any known public employees who contributed to the injury. Under the Federal Torts Claim Act, there are similar requirements, although you are provided more time to file a written claim.

If you are injured due to the carelessness of a public employee, the general rule (with some exceptions) is that the public employee is liable for that injury to the same extent as a private person. As long as the injury occurred during the course and scope of the employee’s work, the public entity employer is also liable. This is known as vicarious liability.

If you are injured due to a dangerous condition of public property in California, you must prove that the condition of the property created a substantial risk of injury when used with due care in a reasonably foreseeable manner.

Furthermore, in a dangerous condition claim, you will have to prove that the public entity owned or controlled the property, that the property was in a dangerous condition, and that the dangerous condition was a reasonably foreseeable risk that was either created by one of the government’s employees or persisted for a long enough time that the public entity and its employees had actual or constructive notice of that dangerous condition.