Orange County is a vastly large metropolitan area with 34 different cities ranging from Anaheim (home of Mickey Mouse) to Huntington Beach (home to large waves and lots of sand). If you were injured anywhere on Orange County city property, you are likely wondering what rights you may have, if any. Rest assured, there may be remedies available to you.
The specific rules for suing any government entity in California are found in the "California Tort Claims Act."
Suing the city is just like suing a regular person, right?
Not even close. Suing a city in Orange County involves suing the government, which is not the same as suing a private company or individual. There are usually special procedures involved that you must follow or else your claim will get tossed out. Cities enjoy government immunity from certain kinds of liability. This means that they can't be sued unless you follow certain rules. Read on to learn more.
What is city property? Who should I sue if I'm injured?
Determining who is responsible for your accident is the first hurdle. The short answer is, anywhere maintained by the city is city property. Here are examples of a few places:
The city is responsible for maintaining public property safely and free of dangerous conditions. If a dangerous condition does arise, the city government is responsible to fix the problem as quickly as possible. If they don't they may be found liable for any injuries that result from it.
Dangerous conditions can include wet surfaces caused by rain, pressure cleaning or spilled liquids, inadequate lighting, uneven surfaces, cracked sidewalks, improper guardrails, hidden or unmarked potholes, unmarked construction site, or foreign objects left on the ground.
What types of injuries commonly happen on city property?
As you might imagine, people sue city governments for countless different reasons. There are several reasons you may want to file an injury-related claim or lawsuit against a city in Orange County. Negligence is the most common basis if you are physically injured. However, there are other grounds available. Common types of lawsuits against city governments include:
What to Do First If I Am Injured
If you are injured, admit you are injured. This isn't the time to be macho or stoic. Excessive delay could torpedo any potential claim you may have. Here are some things to consider:
How do I start the process?
The most important thing to know about suing the government in California is that you have to file an informal claim against the city within 6 months of the accident before you can sue them in court. If you don't, you'll be barred (prevented) from bringing your lawsuit forever.
If you contact the city, they can provide you with the form that they use for personal injury claims. The forms are usually relatively easy to fill out. For instance, here is a link to the city of Anaheim's claim form. Every city has its own form, however.
You'll generally have to include the following information about your claim:
What happens once I file my claim?
Usually a city attorney or other official will review your claim and decide if they want to "accept" or reject it. The city must respond (allow or reject the claim, in whole or in part) within 45 days. It can take longer depending on the complexity. Don't be alarmed if the city rejects your claim. They usually do.
What if the city doesn't respond to my claim within 45 days?
If they don't respond at all, the claim is considered "rejected." At that point it's time to consider filing a lawsuit. It must be filed within two years of your injury in this scenario.
Suing After Your Claim Is Rejected
So, your claim against the city was rejected. No surprise here. As above, you can now proceed with your lawsuit. As we said, your case must be filed within six months of the date of the rejection of the claim, or you'll be barred.
Where do I file my lawsuit?
If you want to file a lawsuit in California, you should first ask how much money you are seeking in damages. If it's less than $7,500, you will generally sue the city in small claims court. In small claims court, an attorney can't represent you. The system is designed so that the parties can reach a final resolution of their matter very quickly. If you need legal advice for a small claims action, you may want to seek a free or low cost legal aid provider in Orange County. Here's an informative guide on small claims actions from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
If the amount is over $7,500, it's more complicated. You'll be filing your lawsuit in the Orange County Superior Court. However, different types of actions have different rules associated with them. You should consider speaking to an attorney. It's best to avoid delay, as time is of the essence when making a claim against the government.
Contact a qualified attorney.