Government & Municipal Liability Claims in California

Can a public agency be held at fault for injuries?

Government agencies, employees, and contractors are not immune from creating unsafe conditions on the systems or property for which they’re responsible. When victims suffer harm as a result, there are laws in place to protect their rights – including laws that let them sue the government.

However, those laws create rules and procedures unique to government liability, and provide special protections to public entities that makes it harder to hold them accountable.

With the pathway to justice in government and municipal liability cases obscured by legal hurdles, victims, families, and law firms with difficult claims can feel confident about placing their trust in our proven team at E&L, LLP.

Our senior attorneys have been nominated as Super Lawyers – Rising Stars, an acknowledgment that is received by the top 2.5% of attorneys – that means 97.5% of other Southern California attorneys do not qualify.

To Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With Our Firm,
Contact E&l, Llp, at (213) 306-5868


Liability Claims Against Public Entities

Government and municipality claims present many complexities for victims seeking justice. Public entities are keen to avoid paying claims for damages, and leverage laws – including key legislation such as the California Tort Claims Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act – which exist precisely to limit the liability of the government and its agents.

These laws make it exceedingly difficult to hold public entities liable for damages, and often include protections and procedures which do not favor plaintiffs – such as government immunity, a shortened statute of limitations, and strict deadlines for reporting notices of claims.

Overcoming these obstacles demands the attention of experienced, detail-oriented trial attorneys who understand the nuances of public entity tort liability – and who have the resources and proven record of success to help plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ attorneys prevail in their fight for justice.

Just as victims have the right to file claims against a private party who caused damages due to negligent or wrongful acts, so too do victims of negligent and wrongful acts committed by public entities. Though the concept behind both types of claims are the same – seeking compensation for civil “wrongs” and legitimate losses – the rules and procedure which govern them are distinctly different.

Public entity liability claims have a lot to do with “sovereign immunity,” a concept which dates back centuries and once prevented citizens from suing states or the federal government. Today, sovereign immunity has been eliminated, at least in part, by most jurisdictions – including the state of California, which passed the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) in 1963 and the Federal Government, which passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946.

In California, the CA Tort Claims Act – also known as the “Government Claims Act” – sets rules and procedures for all claims against the State of California, as well as local governments, municipalities, and political subdivisions. Notably, it’s rooted in sovereign immunity:

“Except as otherwise provided by statute; a public entity is not liable for an injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.” (Government Code § 810-996.6)

Although the Act claims sovereign immunity, it does create statutory exceptions for private citizens to sue the State and other public entities for injuries and damages. For those limited exceptions, there also exist a number of strict claim procedures which victims must follow in order to recover damages.

In the early stages of a government liability case, this includes requirements to:

  • File a Notice of Claim: Before a government entity can be sued, victims must provide the government with notice of his or her claim. Some municipalities and government agencies provide forms online that can be printed and mailed, or submitted electronically. A timely and properly completed notice is essential to government liability cases; missing information, late submission, using the wrong form of communication, or filing notice with the wrong entity could result in delays or rejection of the claim.
  • Include Required Information in Claim: Per Gov. Code § 910 – 913.2, a notice of claim must contain: (1) claimant’s name and address; (2) address where response is to be sent; (3) date, place, and facts of incident giving rise to the claim; (4) general description of damages incurred at the time of the notice; (5) name of agency, entity, and / or employee which caused the injury (if known); and (6) amount of damages (if under $10k) or notice of limited civil case (any case which seeks damages under $25k). For the injured victims we represent, this last step is not necessary, as the costs of medical bills, lost income, and other damages far exceed the $25k threshold.
  • Adhere to Time Limits: In addition to meeting the above requirements, anyone with a potential injury case against a government entity must meet strict deadlines for filing their notice of claim (and if and when applicable, a subsequent lawsuit). In California, the notice of claim against a government entity must be filed within 6 months of the date of injury or death (Cal. Gov’t Code § 911.2.) In some cases, notices may be required within 6 months from the date a victim “discovers” their injury. Late notice of claims (with a request for permission to file a late claim) may be permitted under very strict circumstances, including claimant death, the claimant being a minor during the six-month window, mental or physical incapacity, or some justifiable neglect.


To Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With Our Firm,
Contact E&l, Llp, at (213) 306-5868


Faq: Government Liability Cases in California

What types of personal injury claims can I bring against public entities in california?

Victims may need to sue the government or public entities for a number of reasons. In California, most civil personal injury claims against public entities are permissible under the CTCA (provided procedural requirements are met).

These include cases involving:

  • Auto accidents & truck accidents
  • Roadway defects/negligent road design/unsafe road conditions
  • Failures to perform mandatory duty (i.e. failure to maintain City property)
  • Improper traffic control (especially in construction zones)
  • Public transportation accidents
  • Premises liability (dangerous conditions of public property)
  • Medical malpractice
  • Claims against public schools and school districts (injuries, sexual abuse, etc.)
  • Claims against law enforcement (Excessive force, police shootings, etc.)
  • Intentional torts (assault/battery)

Apart from claims of nuisance and breach of contract, the California Tort Claims Act does not allow nearly any other claim against the government. This includes special “immunities” explicitly covered by statute, including claims for injuries caused by failures to pass or enforce laws, failures to inspect property the government does not own, and discretionary acts or omissions.

Who can be held liable for my injuries?

The specific facts of your case will determine who can be named as defendants. Generally, a government entity in California can be held liable for injuries “it” causes – for a dangerous condition on public property or a failure to perform duties imposed by law – or for injuries caused by the negligent acts of its employees and contractors.

The entity named as a defendant will typically be the one responsible for the property with a dangerous condition, failure to perform, or the employee/contractor. Here are a few examples of situations where public entities may be named as defendants:

  • The State of California for failing to address a dangerous condition on a highway;
  • A City responsible for a dangerous condition at a local park, auto accidents involving a government vehicle or employee, or a defectively designed roadway or intersection;
  • A County responsible for an agency or contractor performing construction or maintenance work, or for failing to maintain trees and other county property;
  • A Public Transportation System responsible for a public bus, light rail/trolley, rapid transit/subway, service station, or taxi service involved in an accident (i.e. LA Metro);
  • Local or State Governments which own property or facilities that cause injury due to toxic exposure;
  • A Local School or School District responsible for students at public schools.

Can I sue the government when its employee caused my injury?

If your injuries were caused by a person who works for the government, whether you can file a claim against the responsible public entity will depend on the circumstances involved – particularly in terms of what the person was doing at the time of the accident.

Under the CA Tort Claims Act, a government entity can be held liable for injuries caused by its employees when the employee is:

  • Acting within the course and scope of their employment; or
  • Carrying out a government/public agency function.

If the person who caused your accident was a government employee, but was not working or carrying out some type of government function at the time, you will likely need to pursue a claim against them as a private person, rather than a government employee.

Who can I sue when a contractor caused my injury?

Cities, Counties, and States all rely on independent contractors to provide necessary services, as well as vendors that provide certain goods and products. Should the actions of a government contractor cause injury, the government may be held liable if the contractor was:

  • Acting within the course and scope of its contracted duties/assignment; or
  • Carrying out a government/agency function for which it had authority.

Tort cases involving government contractors follow the same rules as those against government employees. If the CTCA applies, it generally will not permit claims solely against the contractor/employee.

Can I sue when my injury was caused by a dangerous condition on government property?

Under premises liability laws, victims can file claims against property owners who fail to address injury-causing hazards they knew or should have known about. Premises accidents involving government liability, however, operate on a different standard.

To prevail in a premises claim against the government, a victim must prove:

  • A dangerous condition existed on the property at the time of injury;
  • The dangerous condition was the cause of injury;
  • The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury (of the type the victim suffered);
  • The dangerous condition either: (a) was created a public employee’s negligent or wrongful act; or (b) the government had notice of the dangerous condition, and enough time to correct or protect against it.

Your ability to file suit against a government entity responsible for property, facility, or land which had a dangerous condition depends on the facts involved. Dangerous condition/public property cases may involve slip/trip and fall accidents, unsafe road conditions which contribute to accidents, and explosions or toxic exposure, among other circumstances.

How does a california tort claims act case work?

By requiring victims to submit a notice of claim, California Tort Claims Act cases offer the government an opportunity to investigate the allegations, incident, and/or dangerous condition, limit its scope of liability for litigation and damages, and offer a remedy for losses suffered by claimants with meritorious claims without the need for trial. As a practical matter, however, tort claims are rarely resolved short of litigation.

Generally, after submission of a properly completed notice of claim to the appropriate public entity, the government has 45 days to respond. This may result in one of several actions:

  • The claim is rejected, or there is no response (which effectively means it is rejected);
  • The claim is approved in whole for requested damages, or in part by way of a settlement;
  • The entity requests additional information/that the claimant amend the claim within a certain time period;
  • The claim is returned for being untimely.

If a claim is denied or rejected, either in part or in whole, claimants can proceed by filing a civil lawsuit against the government. There are two statutes of limitations for filing an actual lawsuit against a government entity:

  • 6 months from the date a claimant receives notice from the government that the claim is rejected in part or in whole; or
  • 2 years from the date of the incident if the government failed to respond to the notice of claim.

Because California does NOT have damages caps in government liability cases, victims are entitled to recover their economic and non-economic damages just as they would in a normal personal injury case against a private party – meaning they can recover for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages.

However, the Act does not allow for the recovery of punitive damages, which are awarded in very few civil injury cases, and only when egregious conduct can be shown.

Entrust Your Case to E&l, Llp

E&L, LLP, has cultivated attorneys who are prepared to represent plaintiffs in complex personal injury, product liability, and car accident cases. If you have questions about your rights and options following an automobile defect, our team is readily available to help.

If you have been injured, contact E&L, LLP, at (213) 306-5868, for a free case evaluation and consultation.
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