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How can I file a lawsuit against a public entity?

Maybe you slipped and fell on a patch of icy stairs outside of city hall. Perhaps you were in a car accident where the at-fault party was driving a county truck while working. If the city or the county refused to pay for your medical expenses and other damages, can you file a lawsuit against either entity?

In California, you must abide by the California Tort Claims Act in order to sue a public entity. This legislation states that any lawsuit for monetary damages must be preceded by a written claim within six months of the incident/accident date.

There are a number of reasons why someone might choose to sue the government. These include the government being responsible for a personal injury, death or property damage. The injury suffered is referred to as a "tort." The injured person is referred to as the "claimant."

The claim must be filed with the governing clerk or board for claims against a local government employee or entity or against a county. To file a claim against a state agency the state itself or an employee with the State Board of Control (SBC) by mailing or delivering it to a local SBC office.

The claim must include:

  • Your name and address
  • The place and date where the incident happened
  • What the circumstances of the incident are
  • The name of any employees that caused the injury or damage
  • A description of the injury, loss or damage
  • The dollar amount of the claim and how you arrived at that amount. If the amount is more than $10,000, you won't put a specific amount on the form.

The board has 45 days to allow or reject your claim. Should the claim be rejected, then you would have six months to file a lawsuit against the local, county or state entity or agency.

Just because there is more to do when filing a lawsuit against a governmental entity does not mean you should avoid doing so. An attorney experienced in such claims can be very helpful and ensure your are aware of your legal options.

Source:, "Filing Claims against the Government under the California Tort Claims Act," accessed Aug. 25, 2017

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