Claims Against California Public Entities
by Allen Zeichik, CPCU
In California, Public Entities consist of governmental entities like the State of California, the counties, and the various municipalities.
However, there are also Public Entities which are quasi-governmental entities, such as the Los Angeles School District, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority.
Public Entities are exempt from many of the laws that apply to private individuals or organizations.
Public Entities are governed by the California Government Code.
Under the Government Code, a claim by an individual or an entity, for property damage and/or personal injury must be brought within 6 months of the loss incident.
The Board of the Public Entity, or its agent, when the claim-for-damages is received, may either accept or reject the claim. As a rule, claims are, almost without exception, rejected.
After the rejection, the claimant has 6 months, from the date of the rejection, to either settle his or her claim, or file suit to protect the statute of limitations.
If, after 45 days, the Board, or its agent, fails to act, the claim is automatically deemed rejected as a matter of law. In that situation, the applicable statute of limitations then becomes 2 years from that automatic rejection.
A claim, brought later than 6 months from the loss incident date, but less than 1 year, may be considered by the Public Entity's Board, if an application for leave to present a late claim is made.
If an application for leave to present a late claim is denied, or deemed to be denied, a petition may be made to the Court for an order relieving the petitioner from the pertinent code section. Generally, such petitions are denied.
It is a common failing by many claimants, including the subrogation units of most carriers, to present claims, months and even years, after the loss date.
Another failing by many claimants is to have the wrong party present the claim. A carrier should make a claim under its own name, and not that of its insured. The carrier can only bring a claim for those damages which have been subrogated to it. That is, only those monies that it has actually paid out. A carrier can not, technically, bring a claim for their insured's deductible or rental, unless it has already compensated the insured for that portion of the loss.
Sometimes, the driver of vehicle, or the tenant of a property, attempts to bring a claim in the place of the property owner. These do not constitute valid claims. They will not be honored, nor will they toll the statute on behalf of the property owner.
Another mistake, frequently made, is to provide inaccurate and/or incomplete information on the claim-for-damages form. If a claim is determined to be insufficient, and that insufficiency is not corrected, it may create a bar to recovery, and allow for, in subsequent litigation, a motion for summary judgment, or a non-suit.
A fourth major error made, is in presenting a claim to the wrong entity. A claim against one entity, even if their jurisdictional areas overlap, does not constitute a claim against all of them.
Obviously, the scope of this article does not allow for covering the subject in the breadth or depth that may be necessary for any specific situation. It may be beneficial to consult with counsel who are familiar with the laws involving Public Entities.
In closing, and to state the obvious, be accurate, complete, and timely when presenting claims to