This very general FAQ is limited to a California governmental entity (such as a local county or city government) and will not go into claims against the United States government. If you believe your car accident was caused by a government vehicle or government entity, we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced auto accident attorney.
Claims against the government have different rules and time limits (statute of limitations). When making a claim against the government, you need to be aware of two things:
- 1. You must file a special government claim form in its entirety.
- 2. There is a much shorter time limit for a lawsuit against the government than a normal personal injury lawsuit.
Different Rules For Government Claims and Auto Accidents
One major difference between an auto accident claim against the California government and a private citizen is the legal time limit, or statute of limitations, you have to file a lawsuit. This type of claim must be presented to the correct governmental entity and according to that entity’s guidelines, usually within six months from the date of the car accident. Furthermore, each governmental entity has their own special claim forms, procedural requirements and guidelines, and the six month time limit is entirely different from the usual two year time limit you have to file a personal injury lawsuit against a private citizen.
In addition to the six month government claim statute of limitations, there are also special rules that state how long you have to file a lawsuit if your government claim is rejected or denied. Generally, your government claim is denied if you do not receive a response within 45 days of presenting the claim. If your claim is denied in writing or deemed denied for lack of a government response, one usually has six months from the date of denial to file a lawsuit in the proper court of law, even if it is before the one year statute of limitations.
There may be special circumstances that allow you to present the government claim and file a lawsuit past the six month deadline, but even the outside deadline to present the claim and lawsuit is usually no longer than one year.
Government Claims Are Difficult to Prove
The first challenge is proving whether or not a governmental entity is actually involved or has some responsibility for a car accident. Some government workers drive in marked government vehicles (patrol cars and cars with government license plates), but other government employees have their own personal non-marked cars.
Another obstacle for government claims comes in cases where you must prove that your car accident was caused by the government’s failure to keep a public area safe. If the government failed to properly maintain a roadway or area, a detailed investigation should be immediately conducted to determine which governmental entity (such as a state, city or county) owns or has control of the area where the auto accident occurred. Sometimes there is a history of automobile accidents in the same exact area in which your car crash took place.
Also, some businesses may not appear to be owned by a government entity (such as ambulances, public buses or State property). Even if a government name isn’t obvious, it could still be hidden in special documents — yet another reason to have a proper auto accident investigation.
Can I File a Claim against the Police for an Auto Accident?
In California, the police usually cannot be held responsible for personal injuries, property damage or any other damages that occur during their course of duty because they may be immune from auto accident liability. This protection applies to many different situations and to other government agencies in similar situations (i.e. ambulances and fire trucks).
While the police enjoy immunity for most car accidents, there are often other parties you can hold responsible. For instance, if a police officer collides with your car while in a high speed chase, you might be able to hold the person driving away from the police responsible.