Claim Presentation Requirements to Sue a Public Entity
INJURED PLAINTIFFS GENERALLY MUST COMPLY WITH STATUTORY CLAIM PRESENTATION PROCEDURES BEFORE SUING A PUBLIC ENTITY FOR DAMAGES OR INJURIES OCCURRING ON PUBLIC LAND.
California Government Code Section 945.4 requires plaintiffs to present their claims, in writing, to a public or government entity before naming that entity as a defendant in a lawsuit.
The plaintiff can pursue the suit only if the government entity (a) rejects the plaintiff’s claim or (b) does not respond to the demand before time (and any applicable statutes) render the claim effectively refused.
If the plaintiff does not comply with this mandatory procedure, the government can defeat the plaintiff’s action with a demurrer for “failure to state a cause of action” and the plaintiff’s lawsuit will be dismissed and barred.
Injured plaintiffs must follow the formal claim presentation requirements even when the government entity knows about the claim and/or the plaintiff’s injuries. Also, the requirement applies to claims against public employees (meaning employees of the government or other public entity who were acting within the course and scope of their employment at the time of the plaintiff’s injuries).
WHY DOES THE CLAIM PRESENTATION REQUIREMENT EXIST?
The legislature enacted the claim presentation requirement for several public policy reasons:
1. Proper presentation of a plaintiff’s claims gives the government entity the information it needs to properly investigate and settle the plaintiff’s claims without incurring the costs of litigation.
2. Formal claim presentation allows government entities to plan for potential liabilities, by giving the public entity certainty with regard to the manner in which claims will be presented, and also by giving the public entity time to make financial plans to resolve a claim without the time pressure of a court proceeding.
3. The presentation procedures allows the public entity to take action, based on information in the claim, to help avoid similar future problems and liability.
CERTAIN CLAIMS ARE EXEMPT FROM THE PRESENTATION REQUIREMENTS.
California Government Code Section 905 contains a list of the claims that are exempt from the claim presentation procedures. If a plaintiff’s claim falls into one of the categories contained in Section 905, the plaintiff does not have to follow the claim presentation procedure before filing a lawsuit against a government or public entity defendant.
The exempt claims do not include personal injury or damage to property resulting from the negligence of the public entity (or its employees or contractors). This means if you or someone in your family is injured (or your property damaged) as a result of negligent maintenance or hazardous conditions on public property, and you wish to sue for monetary damages, you will have to comply with the claims presentation procedures.
Claims that involve only injunctions, declaratory relief (court orders “declaring” the state of certain rights, that do not involve payment of money), or requests for “specific performance” (a court order requiring the defendant to perform an action–again, not including payment of money), are also generally exempt from the claim presentation requirements, pursuant to Government Code Section 814. However, most plaintiffs who are injured, or suffer property damage, on public land are interested in recovering money damages, rather than merely having a court state the government acted inappropriately, and in those cases, claim presentation procedures must be followed.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.