When a potential defendant in a personal injury case is a government entity (state, local, municipal, school district, community services districts, etc.) special rules apply before one can even file a lawsuit against that entity in Superior Court. Let’s discuss a recent case handled by Janssen Malloy LLP to illustrate. A Del Norte resident was riding his motorcycle along a street in Crescent City and had the right of way, with no traffic controls for his direction of travel. A California Department of Corrections employee (this was close to the Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City) parked alongside the edge of the road suddenly attempted a U-turn in front of the motorcyclist, causing a collision which threw the motorcyclist over his handle bars, resulting in bilateral hand fractures requiring surgical intervention.
The first procedural step required filing a Government Code claim (per California Government Code section 910, et seq.) within 6 months of the date of the plaintiff’s injury. Failure to file the necessary claim (which is a separate creature than the lawsuit itself) precludes thereafter filing a lawsuit against the public entity in Superior Court. Once the claim is filed the public entity can either accept or reject the claim (most often promptly rejecting the claim). Once the claim is rejected in writing the clock starts running on the 180 days the plaintiff then has to file his lawsuit. Rarely (as in this case), the representative of the public entity will neither accept nor reject accept the claim, instead inviting the plaintiff to submit a documented settlement demand to see if the claim can be resolved short of litigation in the court system. Here, once our client had completed his rehabilitation from his orthopedic surgeries, we submitted a comprehensive settlement demand to the State, and the case was successfully resolved.
More typically, the public entities reject the claim, necessitating the filing of a Superior Court lawsuit. The claim filing requirement is really just another hoop for the plaintiff to jump through, an “exhaustion of administrative remedy.” It really serves as another obstacle, discouraging plaintiffs from litigating against public entities. The distinction between the filing of the claim and the filing of the lawsuit can be confusing to the layperson and underscores the need for an injured party to consult skilled, experienced trial counsel to guide them through the procedural obstacle course of dealing with government entity defendants.
Janssen Malloy LLP has years of experience in litigating such cases and has a variety of such matters in the court system at present. Some of these cases involve contentions of dangerous roadway designs or conditions, some involve police misconduct, and others concern wrongful death while in jail custody. All present complex challenges including the additional procedural obstacles unique to proving a government entity accountable for the injury or death of one of our friends or neighbors. The trial attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP stand ready to assist you or your family in holding the government responsible for its actions.