The first step of any lawsuit is determining the negligent party. Sometimes, this is straightforward: A driver T-boned another car because they were texting, for example. In this situation, it’s clear that the distracted driver caused the accident and should be held responsible. But what happens when a city bus slams into another vehicle or when a public school doesn’t take the proper steps to keep a student safe and causes a child injury?

In these situations, the injury victim may need to sue the government, which comes with distinct challenges. If you think the government is responsible for your injuries, keep reading. Our California personal injury lawyer explains everything you need to know about how to sue the State of California. 

At Case Barnett Law, we’re not afraid to go toe to toe with any at-fault party. That’s because we’re motivated by one thing: getting you justice through compensation.

Suing the Government for a Personal Injury in California hammer and gavel on desk of california injury lawyer

Suing a government agency or government employee isn’t like suing another individual; you need to abide by a set of rules that is specific to suing the government. These rules are laid out in the California Tort Claims Act, which any experienced personal injury lawyer should be extremely familiar with. 

While the process of suing a government entity may differ from case to case, the basic steps are usually similar. We outline those steps below.

Filing a Notice of Claim

If you suspect a California government agency or employee was at fault for your accident in any way, you need to file a notice of claim within the specified time limit if you hope to recover compensation. 

This alerts the government to the fact you were injured and allows them to respond before you file a lawsuit. It’s not how we do it with injury claims against non-government parties, but it’s how state law requires us to do it for government-involved injury claims.

In California, injury victims who want to sue the government must file a notice of claim within six months of the injury. The notice will likely need to include some specific items, including the date, place, and circumstances of the incident, the names of the public employees involved, damages, and losses, as well as the amount of the claim. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you draft the notice correctly.

Waiting for the State to Respond

After you’ve filed a notice of claim, the government must take the next step. In California, a government entity generally has 45 days to respond to a notice of claim. If the claim is rejected, you are free to file a lawsuit in state court. However, the manner of rejection will determine the timeline. 

If your claim is rejected through some form of notice from the government, you must file your lawsuit within six months. If your claim was rejected because the government failed to respond, you have two years from the date of rejection to file your lawsuit. 

In the event that your claim is approved, you will be paid and the process will be over.

When Can You Sue the State of California? Our Costa Mesa Injury Attorney Explains

It’s important to understand that you can’t sue the California government for just anything. The California Tort Claims Act only allows you to sue the government for certain types of personal injury and premises liability cases, including the following: 

  • Car and bus accidents
  • Slip-and-fall accidents
  • Burn injuries
  • Medical injuries
  • Injuries at public schools
  • Assault and battery

When you sue a government entity or employee in California, you can recover compensation for damages like medical expenses, loss of income, property damage, and pain and suffering. However, punitive damages are not generally allowed under the California Tort Claims Act. 

How to Sue a County in California

Government and public agencies are generally responsible for the actions of their workers. That means if a city or county employee injured you while performing their duties or carrying out some government function, you could file a claim against the municipality for their worker’s negligence. 

When it comes to choosing which agency to sue, you have several options, depending on the circumstances of your case. If your injury occurred in Costa Mesa, for example, you could sue the City of Costa Mesa, the County of Orange, the State of California, or even a particular city or county agency. Ultimately, the entity you file your claim with will depend on the details of your case.

Here are the basic steps of how to sue Orange County, California

  1. Obtain a County of Orange claim form.
  2. Fill out the form and include all pertinent information.
  3. Submit the claim form within six months of your injury. 
  4. When submitting the form, consider requesting a certified mail return receipt for proof of delivery or submitting the form in person.
  5. Wait for the county or county agency to approve or reject your claim. 
  6. If your claim is rejected, prepare to sue either in Small Claims Court or civil court, depending on the circumstances of your injury.
  7. File your claim at the proper court and pay the filing fee. Make sure to bring a copy of your denial letter or a copy of your claim form and mailing receipt. 

This is not an exhaustive list of steps, but it does outline the basic process for filing an injury claim when the government is at fault for your accident.

Despite involving relatively few steps, suing the state or a government agency in California can be tricky. For example, if you don’t provide a strong explanation of why you believe the government is liable for your injuries, your claim is likely to be rejected. That’s why injury victims often need an experienced personal injury lawyer to guide them through the process. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with Our California Personal Injury Lawyer

When you’re researching how to sue the State of California, you’re likely to be bombarded with advertisements from personal injury lawyers. With so many options to choose from in Orange County alone, how do you make the right choice?

At Case Barnett Law, we know that finding the right personal injury lawyer for your lawsuit against the government can be crucial to your success. Luckily, we bring all the essentials to the table: experience, communication skills, a proven track record, and, most importantly, a commitment to our clients’ well-being. 

You can find out whether you have a valid case at no cost to you. That’s because we offer free consultations. To request a free consultation with our team, reach out by calling 949-409-0055 or filling out the online contact form below. We have been proudly servicing clients throughout Costa Mesa, California and the surrounding areas.

Case C. Barnett
Costa Mesa Personal Injury Attorney practicing in child injury law, car accident injuries and elder abuse law
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