Filing a Personal Injury Claim Against the Government


If you have lost a family member or suffered catastrophic injuries yourself as the result of someone else’s negligence, you rightfully want your day in court against the responsible party. Unfortunately, that can be complicated when the person who caused your accident works for the government. While the old adage is wrong–you can fight city hall–there are special rules that apply, which often stop victims and families before they even get to trial.

How “Sovereign Immunity” Affects an Injury Victim’s Legal Rights

In the American legal system, states are considered independent “sovereign” entities. As a sovereign, the state is immune from civil lawsuits, including personal injury or wrongful death claims, in its courts unless the legislature consents. Like most states, California does contain an express waiver of its “sovereign immunity” in the form of the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA).

To put it simply, the CTCA states that the state or any local government subdivision is liable for the negligent acts of its employees the same as any private employer. So, for example, if a City of Pasadena employee is driving an official car to a work assignment and causes an accident, the CTCA allows the injured victims to sue the city for the employee’s negligence. Similarly, if you break your hip in a slip-and-fall accident at a government building, the CTCA would allow you to seek compensation.

Unlike personal injury lawsuits against private employers, the CTCA requires you give the government agency advance written notice of your claim. The CTCA contains a detailed list of what this notice must contain. You must send the written notice within six months of your injury–otherwise, the courts will not allow you to proceed with a lawsuit, regardless of the merits or the evidence.

If your claim involves a non-California government entity, you may be subject to that state’s rules regarding tort claims. This was the subject of a recent California appeals court decision. In this case, an employee of the University of California, San Diego, suffered a catastrophic injury when the “crane he was operating tipped over,” according to court records. The employee blamed improper labeling of the shipping container he was attempting to lift, which allegedly failed to state its correct weight.

Now, the shipping container belonged to Oregon State University. When the employee sued Oregon State for damages in California Superior Court, the university moved to dismiss the case under Oregon’s Tort Claims Act. Specifically, Oregon State argued the employee did not comply with the notice provisions in the Oregon law.

Both the trial court and the California Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with Oregon State. The Fourth District explained that the U.S. Constitution requires California’s courts to give “full faith and credit” to the Oregon Tort Claims Act. This means the seriously injured employee was unable to pursue his lawsuit against Oregon State any further.

Get Help From a Pasadena Catastrophic Injury Attorney

In order to avoid outcomes like this, it is critical to engage a Pasadena personal injury attorney as soon as possible following a catastrophic accident. What you may think is a simple case of liability may in fact involve a number of complex legal issues. Contact Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP at (626) 683-9933 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.

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