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Liability in Car Accidents With Government Vehicles

Posted on March 12, 2024 in Car Accidents

A car accident claim involving a government vehicle has a more complicated legal process than a traditional car accident case in California. Government entities are protected from liability (financial responsibility) in many personal injury cases. Even if you can hold a government agency liable for your car accident, you must follow special rules for filing a claim.

What Is a Government Vehicle? 

A government vehicle is any motor vehicle that is owned, operated or used by a government agent or entity. Government vehicles can take many forms and serve various purposes.

Government vehicles that you may see in Los Angeles include:

  • Ambulances
  • Cars driven by government officials 
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Fire department vehicles
  • Garbage collection trucks
  • Government fleet vehicles
  • Law enforcement vehicles
  • Military vehicles 
  • Police cars
  • Public transportation vehicles
  • Street sweeping vehicles
  • The Los Angeles Metro Bus
  • Utility and public works vehicles

Government vehicles are often easily identifiable through distinctive logos, paint schemes and official license plates. 

Who Can Be Held Liable for a Car Accident With a Government Vehicle?

When a car accident in California involves a government vehicle, it will also involve the rule of sovereign immunity. This is a legal doctrine that grants immunity to the government from liability for legal claims or lawsuits. Sovereign immunity applies to claims arising from torts, or civil wrongdoing that results in harm to others. However, exceptions to this rule generally give victims of negligence the right to hold the government liable.

Negligence is the failure to exercise the amount of care that a reasonably prudent person would in the same or similar circumstances. Many states, including California, have enacted laws that grant exceptions to the rule of sovereign immunity when negligence is involved. Under the California Tort Claims Act, the government or a public entity can be held responsible for the negligent acts of its on-duty employees.

Filing a Claim Under the California Tort Claims Act

If a government employee causes an accident while operating a motor vehicle in the course and scope of his or her employment or while carrying out a government function, the California Tort Claims Act gives an injured victim the right to file a claim against the agency or entity. However, these types of cases abide by a different set of rules than standard car accident cases.

For example, instead of California’s typical statute of limitations (claim-filing deadline) of two years from the date of the car accident, a claim against the government must be brought within just six months. Many municipalities, including Los Angeles, have online claim portals and specific forms that must be used to file a claim against a government agency.

When to Contact a Car Accident Attorney

A government agency’s insurance company will put its own best interests first during your car accident claim. The government’s insurer may attempt to deny liability, blame you for the accident, wrongfully reject your claim or devalue your losses to save itself money on your payout.

The best way to protect yourself is by hiring an experienced Los Angeles accident lawyer. An attorney can navigate legal issues such as sovereign immunity and the California Tort Claims Act while you focus on healing from your injuries. To learn more about your specific case, request a free consultation at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP. Contact us today.