In an earlier blog post, I discussed the elements of a claim against a public entity for dangerous condition of public property, such as a deep pothole or obscured signage at an intersection that causes a car accident. As a followup — and in response to a reader’s thoughtful comment — here are the defenses you may face when bringing such a claim. Even if all the elements of the claim are there, you always need to anticipate the public entity’s defenses.
A client comes into your office claiming that a deep pothole or obscured signage at an intersection caused a car accident in which she was injured. Or maybe the family of a bicyclist comes to you claiming that dangerous road conditions contributed to her fatal crash. Would you know how to analyze the situation to determine whether there’s a basis for a suit against the city for the dangerous condition of public property?
Most lawsuits seeking money or damages against a public entity or public employee acting within the scope of employment, must be preceded by a proper administrative claim under the Government Claims Act (formerly known as the Tort Claims Act) (Govt C §§810–998.3). The reasons for the claims presentation requirements are very practical: They give the governmental entity a chance to settle just claims before suit is brought and, by permitting early investigation of the facts, enable the entity to defend against unjust claims and correct the conditions or practices that gave rise to the claim.
The claims presentation requirement also has a draconian edge to them: If a claim is required and not timely submitted, the case is over before it begins. This makes it extremely important that attorneys understand the deadlines for filing a claim, which depend on the type of cause of action involved.