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Personal Injury Law - The Basics
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Accident & Injury Law -Special Rules: Injury Claims Against the Government

If your personal injury suit involves a claim against a federal, state, local government entity, or a government employee, you will most likely need to follow strict guidelines in bringing a lawsuit, including the requirement that you file a "notice of claim" within as few as 60 days after your injury. This is because governments and their subdivisions are usually entitled to what is known as "immunity" to liability and lawsuits, meaning that they cannot ordinarily be sued without permission.

Most governments have enacted laws that contain rules for filing an injury claim against them, and through these laws (usually called "Tort Claims Acts") federal, state, and city governments have conditionally given up or "waived" immunity to legal liability for an accident or injury. Note that if you do not follow the rules in these law (including giving the government prompt notice of your injury claim), you will lose the right to receive any compensation for injuries caused by the government.

The Notice of Claim

If you are involved in any accident in which a government agency or employee is involved (even in a minimal role), you should file a notice of claim as soon as possible, regardless of whether the government's fault is clear at the time.

The claims process differs from state to state, but generally the purpose of filing a notice of claim is to make the government aware that you suffered an injury, and to give the agency or entity a chance to respond to your contentions before you may file a lawsuit against the government. Your claim will either be accepted (which is rare) or denied by the government (most common). If your claim is denied, you are then free to file a lawsuit and attempt to hold the government liable through the civil court process. It may help to think of the notice of claim-filing requirement as a prerequisite to any formal civil lawsuit that can later be filed against the government.

For specific information about the requirements and procedure for filing a government-related injury claim in your city or state, call or write to the government agency that was involved in the incident. If you are unsure which branch of government may ultimately be responsible (i.e. city, county, or state), it is always best to err on the side of caution and submit a claim to each agency that may be at fault (to any extent) for causing your injuries.

Government-Affiliated Organizations: a "Gray Area"

Knowing when the government is involved in an accident or injury is not always clear in every personal injury claim. For example, suppose you are involved in a car accident with a vehicle driven by an employee of an organization that is not an official state agency, but the organization is funded in part by the state of California and operates in an office building owned by the state. After the accident, whether you are required to adhere to the California Tort Claims Act in pursuing a claim for your injuries will depend on whether the organization is an "arm of the state" for purposes of immunity to liability. As mentioned above, it is always best to err on the side of caution and submit a notice of claim to any government branch or government-affiliated organization that may be at fault in your case.

The complexity of bringing a lawsuit against the government, including the need to comply with statutory requirements in filing a notice of claim for injury, make the assistance of an experienced attorney a valuable asset in any accident or injury case in which a government entity may be at fault.