In 2014, a Los Angeles woman was seriously injured on New Year’s Eve when she fell and hit her head on a sidewalk in Hollywood. She promptly notified the city and demanded compensation for her injury. After more than four years of litigation, the city has finally agreed to pay the woman as much as $3 million.
Can You Sue the Government for an Injury?
In most situations, the government (and government employees) will enjoy immunity from civil lawsuits. However, this immunity does not always apply. The California Tort Claims Act allows injured accident victims to pursue compensation from the government in limited situations. One such situation is when the government’s negligence (or the negligence of a government employee) causes a victim to suffer an injury.
Negligence and Dangerous Conditions
The Los Angeles woman’s lawsuit alleged that the city sidewalks she tripped on were in dangerous condition. Specifically, she argued that she tripped over “a pattern of defects on the sidewalk. According to her lawsuit, there were no signs warning her of the uneven pavement and the defects were reportedly covered by fallen leaves.
The government is responsible for maintaining all avenues of transportation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all travelers. This does not only apply to roads, bridges, and tunnels. Sidewalks must also be regularly maintained for pedestrian safety.
When roads and sidewalks are in dangerous condition, a government agency responsible for repair can be held liable for damages. Liability exists when a government knew or should have known about a hazard that posed a threat to the public but failed to take steps to fix the situation. Knowledge can be actual (e.g., they were explicitly told about the dangerous sidewalk) or constructive (e.g., realizing that many accidents happen at this specific location).
Government Claims Must Be Filed Quickly
In California, civil personal injury lawsuits must typically be filed within two years of the date of an accident or injury. When a lawsuit involves a government agency, victims have even less time to file a claim.
Special Administrative Claim
In order to recover damages from the government, an accident victim must file a special government administrative claim within six months of an accident. This claim is filed directly with the government agency itself, rather than in a civil court of law. The government has 45 days to review the administrative request for damages.
How Can the Government Respond to a Claim?
The government can do one of four things after receiving the claim:
- Approve the request and pay the victim
- Approve the request, in part, and deny the rest
- Deny the request in full, or
- Ignore the claim altogether.
If the administrative claim is approved, the victim recovers compensation and the legal process ends. If the administrator is denied, the victim must file a claim in civil court within 6 months of the denial. If the government fails to respond to the claim, the victim has two years to file a claim in civil court.
Shifting Blame to the Victim
In any personal injury lawsuit, the defendant will likely try to shift some of the blame to the victim. In the Los Angeles sidewalk case, the government did just that. In its response to the claim for damages, the government argued that the victim was negligent and responsible for her own injuries. They pointed to the fact that it was New Year’s Eve and that she had been carried piggyback style through the city streets shortly before her accident.
Since the injured woman was demanding compensation, it is her responsibility to prove the government was to blame. In civil cases, plaintiffs must be able to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, a victim’s argument must simply be more likely true than not. The finder of fact (usually a jury) will take all evidence into account when making its decision, including any arguments proposed by the defendant.
Most Lawsuits Settle
Like more than 95 percent of all civil cases, the Los Angeles woman’s sidewalk injury case did not go to trial. Instead, the Los Angeles City Council voted to end the legal battle and settle the case for as much as $3 million. In exchange for accepting the settlement offer, the woman would be required to drop her lawsuit.
Injured in Los Angeles? Call a Lawyer for Help
Suffering an injury can be incredibly overwhelming. If another person or the government is responsible for your harm, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the Los Angeles Accident Law Center to speak with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys. During your free consultation, we will review your case and answer any questions you have.