Dealing with a car accident that wasn't your fault is always challenging. Even minor mishaps leave you with the hassle and inconvenience of dealing with the insurance company, filing a police report, and repairing your damaged vehicle. Larger accidents, of course, come with many more problems and sometimes severe injuries.
Are Government Officials Immune From Lawsuits?
When you are in an accident in the state of California that resulted from someone else's negligence, you can usually file a claim against them. However, what if you're in an accident that involves a government vehicle?
Government employees — at the local, state and federal levels — enjoy immunity from civil suits in many cases. If your accident involves a government vehicle, you may wonder if you can proceed through the usual channels.
Before getting into whether you can file a claim or lawsuit against a government employee, it's a good idea to learn more about sovereign immunity.
What Is Sovereign Immunity?
Sovereign immunity has existed for centuries, beginning with the English monarchy. Today in the United States, it is a doctrine that says no one can sue the government without its consent. It originally applied to the federal government, and the Constitution's Eleventh Amendment is the basis for state sovereign immunity.
Sovereign immunity consists of two categories: qualified immunity and absolute immunity.
Qualified immunity protects state and local government officials from lawsuits. It applies as long as officials act within their office's scope. It also requires officials to work in good faith, and their actions must not violate a constitutional or statutory right that reasonable people would be aware of.
Absolute immunity protects government officials from civil suits and criminal prosecution for damages. It applies unless the official knowingly breaks the law or is incompetent.
The Trend Toward More Accountability
Eventually, laws trended toward holding government officials more accountable for their actions. The Federal Tort Claims Act waives some immunity for federal employees.
The California Tort Claims Act shields the state government and its employees with sovereign immunity in California. It states in part that "a public entity is not liable for an injury." However, the law allows for many exceptions.
Can You File a Claim After an Accident With a Government Vehicle?
If you're in an accident with a government vehicle, such as a car or bus, you can file a suit against the government. The federal government and many states, including California, have immunity exceptions that allow lawsuits for personal injury accidents.
The California Tort Claims Act permits civil liability claims for "money or damages." These acts include government employee negligence. Your claim can be against the entity that employs the negligent person, not the individual. The responsibility falls to the government entity as long as the following applies:
- The person was carrying out a government function
- The person was acting within the scope of the job
Statutes of Limitations
Generally, California allows you two years to file a personal injury lawsuit for financial reimbursement. If you discover an injury later, you have one year from the discovery to file a suit. After the statute of limitations expires, you usually lose your right to file a lawsuit.
When you bring a lawsuit against the government in California, though, the rules are different. They apply to all branches of government, including city, county, state and federal.
Your first step is to file an injury claim within six months of your injury date. You must do this before you can file a lawsuit against the government. Then the government must accept or reject the claim within 45 days. The government may also offer to negotiate a settlement.
If the government rejects your claim or doesn't respond within 45 days, you may file a lawsuit:
- If they reject all or part of your claim, you have six months from your receipt of the "right to sue" letter to file a suit.
- If the government does not respond, you must file a lawsuit two years from the injury date.
Filing a claim is a way to keep your options open. If you choose not to file a lawsuit, that's OK — you have no obligation. However, you can't go back in time and file a claim if you wait too long.
Filing a Claim Against a California City or County
Some cities and counties in California have their own forms to complete. They are mandatory in some cases. San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento, for example, are among the cities with specified claim forms.
Some municipalities might need a specific form to complete. In other instances, you may attempt to find out what to do but don't get answers. You will likely have to create your own letter as a notice of claim.
Creating a Notice of Claim
The California Tort Claims Act outlines that you should include the following in your letter:
- Your name and address
- The mailing address to which you want claim notices mailed
- A description of the incident in which you sustained injuries, including the location and date
- General information about your damages, injuries and losses, including medical bills, lost wages and damage
- The names of the employee or employees that caused the accident if you know them
- If your claim is less than $10,000, the total claimed and how you arrived at it
If your claim is more than $10,000, you need to specify if your lawsuit will be a limited civil case. A limited civil case is a suit in which you seek less than $25,000. It is also one in which you are not seeking a determination of title to real property, an enforcement of a Family Code order, or an injunction.
How Can a Government Vehicle Accident Lawyer Help?
You may be unsure what to do first after a crash. After all, accidents aren't an everyday occurrence for most people. You have the immediate situation to deal with — making sure you and your passengers are all right, checking out the damage to your vehicle, and so on. Then you have to notify the police, collect information from witnesses, and get information from the government employee involved.
Once the dust clears, you have plenty more to handle:
- Doctor appointments
- Calls to the insurance company
- Getting your vehicle to the repair shop
- Notifying your employer if you cannot work
Even a minor accident has enough red tape to keep you busy longer than you want to be.
Getting Assistance With the Details
Navigating a claim with the government can be complicated. It isn't always straightforward with looming, early deadlines and specific forms to fill out. You have little room or time for error.
Consulting a government vehicle accident attorney can relieve some of your burdens. An experienced California attorney is familiar with the ins and outs of filing a claim.
Call Johnson Attorneys Group for an Experienced Government Vehicle Accident Lawyer
At Johnson Attorneys Group, you receive one-on-one attention from a lawyer. We can review your case and determine if you have a claim. If so, we can work with you through the process so that you don't have to do it alone.
Call our office today or complete our online form. We offer a free consultation, so there's no risk to you. Find out how Johnson Attorneys Group can serve you after your government vehicle accident.