How to file an injury claim against a city in California
While there are numerous reasons you may want to file a claim for damages against a city, most often it’s because of a personal injury. Unlike filing a standard lawsuit against a private citizen, local governments are protected by unique procedural rules that must be followed.
The first and most important step to filing a claim against a city is to fill out the appropriate claim form, usually available on the city website. This form must be submitted to the city within six months of the injury’s occurrence and it must include all claims that you potentially will want to file in court. Your claim will be denied and following that denial you will have the right to file your lawsuit.
Where is the form that you need file?
California law requires us to provide notice to any government entity that we want to sue for damages before we file a lawsuit. If we forget to do this step, then our lawsuit will be thrown out and will almost certainly will have missed our deadline. You are not required to use one of the city-provided pre-printed forms, but for those cities that provide them, you might as well.
The form for the City of San Diego is located here. It is available on the sandiego.gov website and can be found easily. The other seventeen cities in San Diego County mostly provide forms on their websites, links provided below.
Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas and Santee do not appear to have their own in-house forms on their city websites at this time. If an injury claim needs be made against one of these cities it can be done in a less formal manner as long as it is in compliance with California Government Code §910, which explains the required elements.
How do you fill out the form?
Most of the forms are in a PDF format, some of them are ‘fillable.’ No matter what, you are going to need to attach additional pages because there isn’t enough space provided. Expect to be attaching a significant packet of information to the form before submission.
The forms are relatively self-explanatory with basic inquiries about what happened. There is one question however that deserves extra special attention:
- What caused the injury? -
In addition to providing a basic description of the actual incident, you and your attorney are also going to want to make the bulk of your legal argument in this section.
Your attorney will provide additional attached pages outlining the relevant evidence and exact causes of action that you intend to sue for, should this claim be denied. Provide photographic evidence of the area where the injury occurred, map coordinates, weather conditions, medical reports, hospital bills, etc. This is not your only time to gather and submit evidence, but it doesn’t hurt to be complete and transparent with what you have.
In addition to evidence, each cause of action you plan to allege will have to be based on statute. You will not be allowed to sue for generic negligence or other common law claims. You should not include the word “negligence” in your claim form filing or lawsuit.
Instead, you will be required to file suit based on relevant California statute. Some of those commonly used in sidewalk slip and fall cases against the government are listed below:
To be clear, if you fail to include a claim on this form, you will not be allowed to include it on your eventual lawsuit. There are almost no exceptions to this rule and California courts have repeatedly held that all claims must be included on the initial form filing. Reviewing every possible injury for inclusion, including things like loss of consortium, is an important part of the attorney-client planning process in these cases.
What do you need to include with the form?
In addition to the filled-out form itself, we are going to want to attach several packages of documents, including:
- Photographic evidence and map locations of where the injury took place
- Medical reports and invoices
- Police reports
- Contact information for witnesses
- Information about relevant insurance
- All statutory claims that you intend to file in court
Who do you file the claims form with?
Each of the relevant forms includes an address at the top with instructions to either mail or personally deliver the completed documents. For those cities that do not have pre-printed forms, I recommend hand-delivering the packet to the City Clerk’s Office to ensure receipt.
What if the form isn’t filed within six months of the injury?
You are in trouble. Government Code §911.2 requires that claims are filed timely, within six months of the date of injury. The California courts have been brutal on those requesting extensions of this time. If you miss the six-month filing window your claim is almost certainly going to be denied and you will be barred from filing a lawsuit.
It is theoretically possible if your client is a minor, physically incapacitated, or mentally disabled that a judge may allow you to make an argument of why your claim was filed late. Success in these hearings however is rare. Point is: file your claim on time.
What happens after the claim form is filed with the city?
The city government has 45 days to respond to your claim. This means that they will either deny the claim within 45 days, or they will simply not respond.
If they deny the claim right away, then you have the right to go ahead and file a lawsuit right away as well.
If they decide not to respond at all, you will need to wait until day 46 to file your lawsuit.
I have alluded to this before, but the city is going to deny (or ignore) your claim. Instead of being surprised or annoyed by this, consider it simply part of the process. Make sure that your claim form includes all possibly relevant causes of action, file timely, and prepare for a fight.
If you receive an actual denial from the government entity you will have six months to file your lawsuit.
If they decide to ghost you and don't respond within 45 days you will have two years from the time of the accident to file your lawsuit.
If you want to have a professional by your side as you make your claim against a city government in San Diego County call Christopher Marshall Law today at (858) 964-2324.