If your accident was even partially caused by a government entity or a government employee, you'll need to follow special rules in bringing a claim for injuries. (For an overview of the claim process, start with Accidents Involving the Government: Claim Basics.)
The claims that state laws require you to file are usually simple lists of basic information in plain language. Some cities, counties, and states have specific claim forms that you can pick up at the office of your local city or county attorney, but most require only a plain signed piece of paper with the information clearly written or typed.
Although there may be slight variations in the information each state requires, all claims should include the following:
Name and address of claimant. “Claimant” means the person injured. If you are filing a claim on behalf of a minor, list the minor’s name and the name of the parent or guardian, as follows: “Claimant Robert Logan, a minor, by Andrea Logan, parent.”
Address to which notices are to be sent. Your home address, unless you want official notices from the government agency to be sent to your work address (or some other address) instead.
Date, place, and circumstances of the accident. Do not go into any detail here. There will plenty of time for you to present your full side of the story later on in the process. For now, just generally describe what happened, such as: “On January 13, 20xx, I was driving north along 4th Street, approaching the intersection of Broadway, when a municipal bus pulled into my lane and struck my car.”
Nature of your injury and other loss. Again, do not go into detail at this point in the process. Just describe your injuries very generally -- “neck and back injuries,” “wrist injury.” Mention lost income, without stating how much you make or how much work time you missed, and any other losses you incurred -- for example, damage to car, clothes, or other property.
If a form asks you to list your medical expenses, list what you have incurred so far, but also state: “Medical treatment is continuing.” This will protect you in case you have to receive more treatment after you have filed your claim.
Public employees who caused the injury. If you know the name of the driver of the bus or car, put it down. If you don’t know who directly caused the accident, do not bother trying to figure out which government employee was legally responsible for the accident. Simply say: “Not known.” It isn't your responsibility to know this information at this stage.
Amount of compensation claimed. It may sound odd, but you want to pick a figure that is considerably higher than what you think your case is worth. So, for example, if you think your case is worth $3,500 to $5,000, make a claim for $25,000. A high number is useful because you may have to file your claim before you have completely recovered from your injuries and therefore before you know how much your claim will be worth. Also, the figure in the claim is just an “opening bid.” Once you actually start negotiating for a settlement, you will narrow the figure down.
The date and your signature. Make sure to date and sign the claim.
Check out this Sample Claim After an Accident Involving the Government to see what a claim might look like. And learn more about the next steps in the process in What Happens After Your Claim is Filed.
Getting More Information and Legal Help
For more tips on filing every kind of injury claim -- including claims against the government -- and everything you’ll need to navigate your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.