Before suing a public entity, a party generally must notify the government of its claim within a specified period of time. This is called “presenting” the claim. The rules around preparing and presenting a claim are strict and detailed. Here are some common questions with answers to help get your timing right.
The Government Claims Act (Govt C §§810–996.6) established uniform procedures for claims against public entities and public employees, and an expanding body of case law has developed around this subject. The same procedures and time frames generally apply to both state and local public entities, with some differences on the subject matter of claims and administrative processes.
- What claims are covered? Almost all claims for money or damages against the state or local public entity are subject to the Government Claims Act. Government Code §905 designates 13 categories of claims against local public entities that aren’t subject to the Act, but for these exempted claims local public entities procedures may adopt their own policies to require presentation. Govt C §935.
- What is the time limit for filing a claim? There are two time categories: 6-month claims and 1-year claims. The Government Claims Act (Govt C §§810–996.6) differentiates between the two categories based on the type of damage the claim “relates to” rather than the claimant’s legal theory.
- Claims “relating to” causes of action for death, injury to person, injury to personal property, and injury to growing crops must be filed within 6 months after a cause of action accrues.
- Claims relating to “any other” cause of action (e.g., damage to real property and most actions for breach of contract) must be filed within 1 year after accrual.
- When is a claim considered to be “presented”? A mailed claim is deemed received when the claimant deposits it in the mail in a properly addressed postage-paid sealed envelope. Govt C §915.2(a). For claims filed with the Department of General Services, see Govt C §911.2(b) and the Department website.
- When does the claim period begin to accrue? A claim must be presented within 6 months or, if appropriate, 1 year “after the accrual of the cause of action.” Govt C §911.2(a). Thus, the accrual date marks the starting point for calculating the claims presentation period. Usually, the date of accrual is simply the date of injury, but some cases, particularly those involving continuing injuries or delayed discovery, can involve complex legal questions that require detailed examination.
- Can the time limit be tolled? The statutes don’t authorize tolling or extending the 6-month or 1-year presentation periods because of either a claimant’s minority or a claimant’s disability. However, there’s a late claim procedure under which, in specified circumstances (including minority and disability), a claimant may obtain permission to present a claim after the normal 6-month period has expired or, in some cases, to commence an action without the formal presentation of a claim.
The government claims process is described in detail in in California Government Tort Liability Practice, chap 5 and California Tort Guide, chap 8. Difficult issues arise when delayed discovery of the injury is involved or when you need to file a late claim. CEB has you covered with expert guidance on these issues in California Government Tort Liability Practice, chaps 6-7.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Before Taking on the Government for that Pothole
- Pardon My Tardy Claim
- Be Ready for the Defense When Suing a City for a Pothole
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