Who Is Liable for an Injury in a Public Place?
If an accident happens on private property, you may know that you have the right to file a claim against the property owner for negligence. If you get injured in a public place, however, liability for your injuries and medical bills may not be as clear. In California, the law permits you to bring an injury claim against the government agency responsible for the public land or building in certain circumstances.
Public Places Are the Government’s Responsibility
Just as a private property owner is responsible for injuries that take place on his or her premises, the party or entity that owns a public place can be held liable for accidents. The government owns and is responsible for most public places in California. Public parks in Los Angeles, for example, are owned by the County of Los Angeles and maintained by the LA Department of Parks and Recreation.
If an individual gets injured on public property in California, he or she may be able to bring a premises liability claim against the state or local government that owns the land for negligence. This includes after a car accident, physical assault, slip and fall accident, or animal attack in a public place. If the government entity responsible for the safety and maintenance of the property was negligent, meaning it did not uphold the proper standards of care, it can be held liable for a victim’s injuries after an accident.
Government Liability and Sovereign Immunity in California
A law known as sovereign immunity protects most government agencies from liability for personal injuries and property damage. The California Tort Claims Act, however, allows residents to sue the government if it or one of its employees was negligent and if this was the proximate cause of a victim’s injury. It is possible to pursue a premises liability lawsuit against a government entity in California if negligence caused the accident.
All property owners, including the government, have a responsibility to maintain reasonably safe premises. This duty of care means checking the property for potential injury risks or defects, making timely repairs when the owner becomes aware of a hazard, and warning visitors of existing hazards. If the government fell short of these responsibilities when maintaining a public park, sidewalk, street, building or another area, it could be held responsible for a related visitor injury.
Special Requirements for Claims Against the Government in California
Filing a claim against the government in California has a special process compared to a typical personal injury case. Under the Tort Claims Act, an accident victim has special rules and requirements that must be obeyed to successfully sue a state or local government agency. Here’s how this type of claim works:
- File a written notice of your intent to sue the government or a public agency. Do this by sending a letter to the agency or using its Claim for Damages form, if available.
- You must send your notice to sue within six months of the date of your accident. This is a much shorter deadline than California’s typical statute of limitations of two years.
- Once you file your claim, the agency will let you know if it has been approved or denied. If approved, you can negotiate for a settlement and your case may end here.
- If your case gets denied or the agency does not respond within 45 days, you or your lawyer must obtain a small claims court form (if your case is worth $10,000 or less) to file a lawsuit.
- You will file your case in the civil courthouse in the county that you are naming in your lawsuit or the county where you live. You will need to pay a filing fee.
It is your burden during this type of claim to prove that the defendant was negligent and that this caused your injury. You must prove your case using clear and convincing evidence. Hiring an attorney can help you meet your burden of proof and abide by all legal requirements for a valid claim to damages. For more information about filing an injury claim after an accident in a public place in Los Angeles, contact Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP.