From traffic accidents involving city-run buses and trains, to slip and fall incidents on government property, injury claims against a government entity aren't as rare as you might think. But if your accident or injury may be attributable to the fault of a California government agency or employee, you'll need to follow a different set of rules than you would if you were pursuing a legal remedy against a private individual or business.
This article offers specific information for anyone who needs to file a claim for injury or property damage against a government agency in California -- whether at the state or local level.
(For more general information on what to expect if your injury case involves the government, check out our Injury Claims Against the Government section.)
In California, most claims seeking government compensation for injury or property damage need to be filed with the Government Claims Program, which is operated by the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.
If you think the California government (or one of its agencies or employees) may be legally liable for your accident or injury, you need to first file a claim over the incident with the Government Claims Program. If you don't file the claim -- or don't make sure you've followed GCP procedure including filing deadlines -- you'll almost certainly lose the right to collect any compensation from the government. It's that simple.
After your claim is filed, it will be processed, and then either accepted or rejected. If your claim is accepted, and you are paid a satisfactory amount of damages over the incident (enough to cover your medical bills or to compensate you for property damage, for example), then that may well be the end of the matter.
If your claim is rejected via the GCP process, you can then pursue other remedies, including the filing of a lawsuit seeking compensation for your damages. But remember, filing a claim with the GCP first is the only way you can get to the courthouse steps and file a lawsuit against the state.
Now, let's take a closer look at the claim filing process.
Claim Filing Deadline: In California, under the GCP, you have six months to file your claim after any incident that resulted in:
For any other type of harm suffered (damage to real property, for example), you must get your claim filed within one year after the incident occurred.
Claim Filing Fee: You'll need to pay a processing fee of $25 in order to file an injury claim with California's Government Claims Program. But in some case you may be able to get the fee waived (learn more about fee waiver from the GCP website). And if your claim is accepted and money is awarded, you may be entitled to reimbursement of the filing fee as part of your award.
Claim Review: Once your claim is accepted, it will be reviewed by GCP staff, which will either reject the claim (because it is insufficient, or not timely, for example) or make recommendations to a three-member GCP board. If the board okays the claim, payment will be made to the claimant. If a properly submitted and timely injury claim is rejected by the GCP, the claimant is free to pursue other legal remedies against the state, its agency, or its employee -- including the filing of a lawsuit for damages.
Note on Claims for Under $100 in Damages: If your accident or injury resulted in less than $100 in damages, you don't need to file a claim under the California Government Claims Program. Instead, you'll likely be able to file a claim directly with the state agency involved in the incident. So, which California agency is the right one? Check out the California Government Agency Directory from the state's website.
What if your accident or injury did not involve a government agency at the state level, but a specific city, county, town, or other municipality in California? Your first move is to contact that local government directly (usually through a county clerk or similar local office). They'll tell you what you need to do in order to get the claim process started. This kind of information may even be available on an official website, so start with a web search.