Under California’s Government Claims Act (Govt C §§810–996.6), you can’t sue a public entity or its employees until after you’ve presented the entity with a claim for “money or damages.” Here’s a handy checklist of the essential elements to include in a claim.
- ___ Names and addresses of the claimant and the person to whom notices are to be sent. If you don’t include at least one of these two pieces of information, the entity is absolved of the duty to send a notice of defects, which precludes you from claiming a waiver of defects as a defense. Govt C §911. If both addresses are absent, the entity need not give notice of rejection, making it difficult for you to calculate the last day to file a complaint. See Govt C §§913, 915.4.
- ___ Statement of the “date, place, and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction.” This statement need not be set out in evidentiary detail, but include enough data “for investigation and consideration of the claim.” Dillard v County of Kern (1943) 23 C2d 271, 278.
- ___ Description of the injury. This includes a description of the indebtedness, obligation, damage, or loss incurred, as far as you know them when you present the claim.
- ___ Name of the public employee who caused the injury, if known. This information is particularly relevant to the legislative purpose of facilitating investigation and possible settlement. Absent waiver of the defect, failure to supply the name, if it’s shown that you knew it, may prevent you from suing a public employee as an individual defendant.
- ___ The amount claimed. If less than $10,000 on the date the claim is presented, include the amount and how it was computed. If it’s more than $10,000, don’t include a dollar amount but do state whether the claim is to be a limited civil case. Govt C §910(f).
- ___ Inclusion of all claimants. Make sure that the claim clearly includes the claims of all persons entitled to seek recovery from the defendant. As a general rule, every claimant must present a claim—even if another party timely presented a claim that provided the public entity with full knowledge of the basis of the alleged liability.
Although you’re not required to recite facts in detail in the claim, nothing prevents you from doing so. Keep in mind that the claim you send is often the public entity’s first notice of the issue and it’s your first opportunity to persuade the entity that your claim has merit. Treating the claim as merely a pro forma prerequisite to a lawsuit, rather than as an attempt to settle the case before trial, wastes an opportunity. But don’t delay presenting a claim past the deadline, or apply for leave to present a late claim, while seeking evidence to support the claim.
Before you present a claim against a public entity, make sure to check out CEB’s California Government Tort Liability Practice for in-depth procedural and substantive guidance on claims against public entities or employees based on the California Government Claims Act.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Before Taking on the Government for that Pothole
- File a Claim or Forget Your Suit Against a Public Entity!
- Be Ready for the Defense When Suing a City for a Pothole
© The Regents of the University of California, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.