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Public Employees and Liability: What You Need to Know 


Government institutions and employees are held to different liability standards than the average person or company. You’ll face unique hurdles if you want to file a lawsuit against a federal, state, or municipal worker or department. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to hold government workers accountable for the harm they do. With the proper preparation, you can take legal action and pursue compensation for your losses. 

Knowledge is key for these cases. Here’s what you need to know about how California’s liability laws differ for public workers, who’s liable for their actions, and how you can pursue compensation.

When May Public Employees or Entities Be Liable for Injuries?

Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees from most torts (civil lawsuits). You cannot file a lawsuit against these parties unless there is a specific law that states otherwise. The California Government Code includes specific sections dictating these liability exceptions for government employees and institutions. 

The most important is Section 820.2, which states, “Except as otherwise provided by statute, a public employee is not liable for an injury resulting from his act or omission where the act or omission was the result of the exercise of the discretion vested in him, whether or not such discretion be abused.” This means you may never hold public workers liable for their actions while doing their routine job duties. 

However, Section 815.2 (a) gives you another option. Instead of holding the employee liable, you may take action against the department where they work. For instance, if a bus driver runs a red light and hits your car, the public transportation department may be liable.

You can also hold government entities accountable for failing to perform mandatory duties. These are responsibilities given to the entity by a statute intended to protect the public from risk. If they don’t complete those duties, such as if Caltrans failed to maintain safe road infrastructure and dangerous roads cause accidents, they may be negligent and responsible for any injuries.

Finally, the California Tort Claims Act of 1963 allows you to file lawsuits against public entities if they fail to maintain safe property conditions. If you’re injured because of dangerous conditions on government property and those conditions were caused by neglect or a wrongful act, you may be able to take action against the entity. 

How to Pursue Tort Claims Against Government Agencies

If you believe you have grounds for liability under the laws above, you may be able to take action against the government agency that hurt you. However, you only have six months to decide whether you want to take action for personal injury or wrongful death claims. Here’s how you can successfully file a tort claim without running out of time.

Consult With an Attorney

Before doing anything else, you should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. There are specific and unique procedures involved in many steps of the tort process when government agencies are involved. If you aren’t aware of these requirements and don’t perform them, your case may be dismissed outright.

Your attorney will prevent that from happening. An experienced lawyer will help you understand whether you have a strong case and ensure all necessary procedures and paperwork are completed. They will also help you determine the best way to respond to any actions the government agency may take in your case to protect your rights every step of the way.

Build Your Case

With your attorney, collect information regarding your claim. You’ll need data such as:

  • The specific date, time, and circumstances surrounding your injury
  • A clear and detailed list of your allegations against the entity and how they caused your injury
  • The names or identification numbers of any public employees responsible for your injury, if known and relevant
  • A description of the injuries or losses the incident caused you to suffer
  • The amount of your claim and the reasoning for that number

All information related to your case must be organized and accurate. Inaccuracies or missing data can lead to your claim being dismissed outright. If this occurs, you’ll need to resubmit it with corrected facts, which may cause you to miss the six-month deadline. Your lawyer will help you ensure all the information you gather is accurate and comprehensive.

File a Notice of Claim

Once you’ve gathered the above information, you will create a notice of claim with your lawyer. Depending on the agency against which you want to file a claim, this may be a letter, report, or specific form the agency provides. Your attorney will ensure that it is filled out accurately and submitted to all necessary agencies in a timely fashion.

Address the Response

Government entities have 45 days to respond to all claim notices. They may approve it in whole or part, reject it, request additional information, or return it unconsidered if it is past the deadline. 

If your claim is approved, your attorney will help you negotiate to receive the compensation you need for your losses. If it’s rejected, then you have an additional six months to file an appeal with the Superior Court. Should that request be granted, you’ll have 30 days to file a lawsuit against the agency. Your lawyer will keep your claim on track and ensure you don’t miss these critical deadlines. 

Hold Government Employees Accountable for Your Losses

Government agencies shouldn’t be immune from responsibility for the harm they cause. If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to a public employee’s negligence or wrongful act, their employer may be liable for their actions. 

At the Ellis Helm, we can help you pursue justice for your injuries. We help clients fight for fair compensation in personal injury and wrongful death claims, regardless of who hurt them. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how our expert attorneys will support you as you hold public agencies accountable for the harm done by their employees.