Former Alameda City Attorney and City Manager File Claims Against the City
Recent actions by former Alameda city employees point out the necessity of filing a proper government claim before filing a lawsuit. The former city manager, Ann Marie Gallant, and former city attorney for the city of Alameda filed claims against the city on March 10, 2011. The claims arise out of both of them being put on administrative leave in December of 2010. They claim that the action was taken as an illegal retaliation for their roles last year in investigating the conduct of Council woman Lena Tam, who allegedly leaked confidential information to a developer. Neither has filed a lawsuit yet.
Many members of the public are unaware that before suing the government in California, one must file a proper government claim. Government Code section 905 requires that before suing a public entity for any money damages, subject to enumerated exceptions, a government claim must be filed within six months of the alleged wrongdoing. This section applies to any type of personal injury claim as well as other types of claims for money damages.
Whenever a person is suing a public entity, a claim in proper form must be filed. What is a public entity may not always be obvious. We all know that a city or State is a public entity. But you may not know that your local hospital is within a hospital district and is therefore considered a public entity. Locally, our Alameda Hospital is within a public hospital district and would be considered a public entity for the purposes of claims filing. Another not so obvious example would be a school district. Therefore, whenever considering filing a personal injury action against a school district for a child’s injuries occurring at school, one should make sure a proper claim is filed. Transit districts, such as AC Transit, or BART are also public entities against whom claims must be filed.
There are strict time limits which apply to when the claim must be filed. Any claim against a California public entity must be filed within six months of the date of the injury or loss (subject to very limited exceptions). This rule applies to minors as well. They cannot wait until their eighteenth birthday to file the claim. If the claim is not filed within the six months, all rights to sue will be lost (again subject to very limited exceptions).
The claims process can be complex. The initial step starts with filing the claim itself. The city of Alameda has its own forms which can be used, but the law does not require that these forms be utilized. One can submit their own claim on their own paper. The claim must include the following: 1. The name and address of the claimant; 2. The name and address to which the claimant wants notices sent; 3. The date, place, and other circumstances of the occurrence which gives rise to the claim; 4. A general description of the indebtedss, obligation, injury or loss; 5. The identity of the public employee responsible for the injury or loss, if known; and 6. The amount claimed which may be stated in general terms whether the claim would be in the jurisdiction of the limited civil court (less than $25,000.00) or within the jurisdiction of the unlimited civil court (greater $25,000.00).
Once the claim has been filed the City has forty-five days to accept or reject the claim. If no action is taken within forty-five days, one may deem that the claim has been rejected as a matter of law and then file their lawsuit. If the claim is formally rejected by the public entity, one has only six months to file a lawsuit from the date of the rejection of the claim. If the lawsuit is not filed within the six months, the claim will be barred by law.
As a personal injury lawyer in Alameda for the past twenty-seven years, I have seen occasions where unsuspecting members of the public were unaware of these claims filing procedures. Accordingly, they came into my office after the six month statute had expired and there was nothing they could do against the public entity to recover for the personal injury damages that they suffered. If you have been injured as a result of negligence of any public entity, including the State of California, a City, a public hospital, school district, or a transit district you must be acutely aware of the government claims procedures or your may lose all of your legal rights. For more information, see “ 6 Things you Should Know if You Want to Sue the Government.”
Oakland Tribune, Gallant, Highsmith file claims against the city, March 17, 2011