Filing Late Government Claims (Tort Claims) in California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Generally government claims for personal injury and personal property damage are due with a public entity within six months of an incident, with some notable exceptions.

However, if a claimant fails to file a government claim within the sixth months, there is a procedure to file a late claim.

(a) When a claim that is required by Section 911.2 to be presented not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action is not presented within that time, a written application may be made to the public entity for leave to present that claim.

(b) The application shall be presented to the public entity as provided in Article 2 (commencing with Section 915) within a reasonable time not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action and shall state the reason for the delay in presenting the claim. The proposed claim shall be attached to the application.

(c) In computing the one-year period under subdivision (b), the following shall apply:

(1) The time during which the person who sustained the alleged injury, damage, or loss as a minor shall be counted, but the time during which he or she is mentally incapacitated and does not have a guardian or conservator of his or her person shall not be counted.

(2) The time shall not be counted during which the person is detained or adjudged to be a dependent child of the juvenile court under the Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Law (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 200) of Part 1 of Division 2 of the Welfare and Institutions Code), if both of the following conditions exist:

(A) The person is in the custody and control of an agency of the public entity to which a claim is to be presented.

(B) The public entity or its agency having custody and control of the minor is required by statute or other law to make a report of injury, abuse, or neglect to either the juvenile court or the minor’s attorney, and that entity or its agency fails to make this report within the time required by the statute or other enactment, with this time period to commence on the date on which the public entity or its agency becomes aware of the injury, neglect, or abuse. In circumstances where the public entity or its agency makes a late report, the claim period shall be tolled for the period of the delay caused by the failure to make a timely report.

(3) The time shall not be counted during which a minor is adjudged to be a dependent child of the juvenile court under the Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Law (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 200) of Part 1 of Division 2 of the Welfare and Institutions Code), if the minor is without a guardian ad litem or conservator for purposes of filing civil actions. California Government Code section 911.4.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 798-3300

Releases for Gross Negligence In the Context of Sports or Recreational Programs or Services are Void In California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Most people have been asked to sign releases at various times, particularly for participation of their children in youth activities.  Are they valid?  They can be in many cases.  But in certain cases, they may be void if there is a public policy reason or statute.  For example, Civil Code section 1668 prohibits contracts which “have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, or willful injury to the person or property of another, or violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.”  Further, case law in California has prohibited releases of future gross negligence as being void against public policy.  City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th  747, 758.

There is an entire inquiry into whether a release is valid, which I won’t discuss here today.  Suffice it to say, you should consult with a personal injury attorney even if there is a release, because it is a technical question.  Most, if not all, personal injury attorneys provide a free consultation in personal injury cases.

In the City of San Barbara case, mentioned above, the mother of a developmentally disabled 14 year-old signed a release purporting to release the City of Santa Barbara and its employees from liability for “any negligent act” related to the child’s participation in a summer camp, run by the City, for developmentally disabled children.  The child drowned, and the parents filed suit.

We conclude . . . that an agreement made in the context of sports or recreational programs or services, purporting to release liability for future gross negligence, generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy. Applying that general rule in the case now before us, we hold that the agreement, to the extent it purports to release liability for future gross negligence, violates public policy and is unenforceable.

My Torts Professor, Kenneth Manaster, drummed in our heads that “gross negligence” was not a term that we should bandy about, and of course he said it in 1995 or 1996, eleven years before City of Santa Barbara. There is a sort of “folk law” idea of what gross negligence is, perhaps informed by the law of other, non-California states.  In the City of Santa Barbara case, the California Supreme Court distinguishes between ordinary negligence and gross negligence:

We begin by defining the terms that underlie the issue presented. “Ordinary negligence”—an unintentional tort—consists of a failure to exercise the degree of care in a given situation that a reasonable person under  similar circumstances would employ to protect others from harm. (See, e.g., Donnelly v. Southern Pacific Co. (1941) 18 Cal.2d 863, 869, 118 P.2d 465 (Donnelly ).)
 “Gross negligence” long has been defined in California and other jurisdictions as either a “want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” (Eastburn v. Regional Fire Protection Authority (2003) 31 Cal.4th 1175, 1185–1186, 7 Cal.Rptr.3d 552, 80 P.3d 656 (Eastburn ), and cases cited; accord, Colich & Sons v. Pacific Bell (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 1225, 1240, 244 Cal.Rptr. 714 (Colich ); Kearl v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1986) 189 Cal.App.3d 1040, 1052–1053, 236 Cal.Rptr. 526; see also, e.g., Prosser & Keeton, The Law  of Torts (5th ed.1984) § 34, pp. 211–212 (Prosser and Keeton); 57A Am.Jur.2d (2004) Negligence, § 227, p. 296.)  City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court, 41 Cal. 4th 747, 753-54, 161 P.3d 1095, 1099 (2007).
The procedural posture of the City of Santa Barbara was somewhat unusual.  The City moved for Summary Judgment, lost, and appealed immediately.  The case was set for trial, and then the City settled before the trial started for $2,000,000.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

E: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

LAPD Legal Payouts By the City of Los Angeles

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

On January 22, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published a spreadsheet showing the amounts paid by (or collected in some rare cases) by the City of Los Angeles related to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).  The numbers are fascinating, and no doubt required a great deal of clerical work either by the employees of the Los Angeles Times, or by the employees of the City of Los Angeles.  This is a good illustration of the benefits of the California Public Records Act.

The cases run the gamut from minor traffic accidents to wrongful death suits to disability payouts to Federal civil rights cases, and even dangerous condition of public property.  I have a perspective on this data because I am a plaintiff’s attorney, both in the personal injury and the 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 civil rights arenas, and because I defended cities and police officers for about ten years, first as a Deputy City Attorney and then as as an Assistant City Attorney.

The information regarding the car accidents is not surprising.  In an accompanying article, reporter Joel Rubin writes:

The city has paid nearly $24 million in settlements or verdicts in about 400 LAPD traffic-related lawsuits over the last nine years and must contend with dozens more cases that remain unresolved, city records show. In all but a few of the closed cases, city officials opted to pay a negotiated settlement instead of taking their chances at a trial — a strong indication that the officers were in the wrong.

However, other interesting information can be gleaned from the data: the City of Los Angeles does not try as many cases as you would think for a City of that size or a City Attorney’s Office of that size.  I counted only 25 trials out of 921 cases with a listed disposition.   On the other hand, there were not that many outright $0 verdicts or settlements, 16 by my count.

Thirteen of those are what I would characterize as alleged Federal Civil Rights allegations: 4 were listed as Dismissal-Court, which I would take to mean a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.    There are 4 voluntary dismissals, though it is not clear if that means that there was a dismissal with a waiver of costs and a release, or whether the cases listed as Settlement (three cases).  Only one of the civil rights cases was listed as won on Summary Judgment.  One case does not give information about how the City of Los Angeles was not liable.

Federal Civil Rights cases are very fact dependent, so looking at the raw statistics without more information (the alleged conduct, the case number, stage of disposition), for example.

This is good investigative journalism by the Los Angeles Times.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

Email: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

Gophers Can Cause Trip and Falls

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

I went out for another walk today, in the late afternoon.  I love to see California native wildlife, like a California Pocket Gopher

I am a big fan of California wildlife, particularly Pocket Gophers, though not as much as my late friend Emma.  I had never seen a living pocket gopher before, but this individual poked his head up a few times, and I was able to get a picture of his head.  Unfortunately, I only had an iPhone to take a picture, and it was from about six feet away.

Gophers can cause damage to lawns.  They can also damage parks.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I defended a lawsuit involving an AYSO coach who allegedly tripped and fell in a field in Wildwood Park.  Because the case involved a public entity, the plaintiff had to plead and prove a dangerous condition of  public property cause of action, but with a private landowner, the standard is typically negligence.  The case also involved cross-complaints against the City’s pest controller contractor and the American Youth Soccer Organization.  If I recall correctly, the American Youth Soccer Organization, Inc. picked up the City’s defense under an express indemnification clause in a field use agreement.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 300 E. State St. Suite 517
Redlands CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

What is a “dangerous condition of public property?”

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

A public entity may only be held liable for a dangerous condition of its property, not for simple negligence or premises liability.   Before I was in private practice helping plaintiffs, I received a good education in a variety of dangerous condition of public property cases when I was Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino and as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands.

A “dangerous condition” is “a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial, or insignificant) risk of injury when such property . . . is used with due care in a manner in which it is foreseeable that it will be used.”  Government Code § 830(a).  A public entity is liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of property it owns or controls if the plaintiff establishes that (1) the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of injury; (2) that the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition; (3) the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury incurred; and either (i) a public employee, within the scope of his or her employment, negligent or wrongly committed an act or omission that created the condition or (ii) the entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition in sufficient time before the injury to take protective measures against the dangerous condition. California Government Code §§ 830, 835.

What are the kinds of scenarios that might involve two public entities, or a mix of public entities and private entities?  The scenarios I have seen as an attorney have included:

1. A city, a water district, and a private land owner, where a sidewalk panel was removed to replace a meter box, and the sidewalk panel was never replaced.  The plaintiff tripped and fell.

2. A city, a school district, and an adjoining land owner, and a nonprofit youth organization, where the plaintiff tripped over a utility cover, wherein the surrounding compacted dirt had eroded over the years, but no sidewalk ever existed.

3. A city, a county, and a private land owner, and a private party, where a motorcyclist died at an intersection jointly controlled by the city and county, when the motorcyclist was struck by the private party’s automobile.

4. A trip and fall that happened only in one city, but the plaintiff sued two cities because it was not clear which entity owned or controlled the sidewalk.

5. An injury to a person who was waiting at a bus stop from a city tree in a city park, but at a bus stop owned and controlled by a joint-powers authority transit system.

6. A flooding case wherein the flood control channel was owned by a county flood control agency, but the culvert and bridge were owned by a city.

California Government Code section 830(c) states “‘Property of a public entity’ and “public property” means real or personal property owned or controlled by the public entity, but do not include easements, encroachments and other property that are located on the property of the public entity but are not owned or controlled by the entity.”

“Where the public entity’s relationship to the dangerous property is not clear, aid may be sought by inquiring whether the particular defendant had control, in the sense of power to prevent, remedy or guard against the dangerous condition; whether his ownership is a naked title or whether it is coupled with control; and whether a private defendant, having a similar relationship to the property, would be responsible for its safe condition.”  Low v. City of Sacramento (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 826, 833-834.

Obviously, ownership is a key fact to prove.  Control can be more difficult.  In the case of a jointly controlled intersection, there is typically an agreement between the two public entities. Obtain and examine that agreement (either through discovery or by using the California Public Records Act).  Control can be established by deposing maintenance workers who have personal knowledge of the maintenance work done at the property, and to a limited extent, with written discovery.

In Bonanno v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, the California Supreme Court ruled that  “the location of public property, by which users are subjected to hazards on adjacent property, may constitute a dangerous condition” under Government Code sections 830 and 835.  Bonanno v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (2003) 30 Cal.4th 139, 815-816.

Therefore, there are factual scenarios where more than one public entity can be responsible for one injury by pleading and proving a dangerous condition of public property cause of action.  In the flooding scenario noted above, the plaintiff also pled an inverse condemnation cause of action.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St. Suite 517
      Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

Can two public entities be jointly responsible for the same injury under a dangerous condition of public property theory of liability?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

A public entity may only be held liable for a dangerous condition of its property, not for simple negligence or premises liability.   Before I was in private practice helping plaintiffs, I received a good education in a variety of dangerous condition of public property cases when I was Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino and as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands.

A “dangerous condition” is “a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial, or insignificant) risk of injury when such property . . . is used with due care in a manner in which it is foreseeable that it will be used.”  Government Code § 830(a).  A public entity is liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of property it owns or controls if the plaintiff establishes that (1) the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of injury; (2) that the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition; (3) the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury incurred; and either (i) a public employee, within the scope of his or her employment, negligent or wrongly committed an act or omission that created the condition or (ii) the entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition in sufficient time before the injury to take protective measures against the dangerous condition.  Government Code §§ 830, 835.

What are the kinds of scenarios that might involve two public entities, or a mix of public entities and private entities?  The scenarios I have seen as an attorney have included:

1. A city, a water district, and a private land owner, where a sidewalk panel was removed to replace a meter box, and the sidewalk panel was never replaced.  The plaintiff tripped and fell.

2. A city, a school district, and an adjoining land owner, and a nonprofit youth organization, where the plaintiff tripped over a utility cover, wherein the surrounding compacted dirt had eroded over the years, but no sidewalk ever existed.

3. A city, a county, and a private land owner, and a private party, where a motorcyclist died at an intersection jointly controlled by the city and county, when the motorcyclist was struck by the private party’s automobile.

4. A trip and fall that happened only in one city, but the plaintiff sued two cities because it was not clear which entity owned or controlled the sidewalk.

5. An injury to a person who was waiting at a bus stop from a city tree in a city park, but at a bus stop owned and controlled by a joint-powers authority transit system.

6. A flooding case wherein the flood control channel was owned by a county flood control agency, but the culvert and bridge were owned by a city.

Government Code section 830(c) states “‘Property of a public entity’ and “public property” means real or personal property owned or controlled by the public entity, but do not include easements, encroachments and other property that are located on the property of the public entity but are not owned or controlled by the entity.”

“Where the public entity’s relationship to the dangerous property is not clear, aid may be sought by inquiring whether the particular defendant had control, in the sense of power to prevent, remedy or guard against the dangerous condition; whether his ownership is a naked title or whether it is coupled with control; and whether a private defendant, having a similar relationship to the property, would be responsible for its safe condition.”  Low v. City of Sacramento (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 826, 833-834.

Obviously, ownership is a key fact to prove.  Control can be more difficult.  In the case of a jointly controlled intersection, there is typically an agreement between the two public entities. Obtain and examine that agreement (either through discovery or by using the California Public Records Act).  Control can be established by deposing maintenance workers who have personal knowledge of the maintenance work done at the property, and to a limited extent, with written discovery.

Also, conditions of adjacent property can make public property hazardous.  In Bonanno v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, the California Supreme Court ruled that  “the location of public property, by which users are subjected to hazards on adjacent property, may constitute a dangerous condition” under Government Code sections 830 and 835.  Bonanno v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (2003) 30 Cal.4th 139, 815-816.

Therefore, there are factual scenarios where more than one public entity can be responsible for one injury by pleading and proving a dangerous condition of public property cause of action.  In the flooding scenario noted above, the plaintiff also pled an inverse condemnation cause of action.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St. #517
      Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

W: http://michaelreiterlaw.com

How to Answer Form Interrogatory Number 17.1 on Personal Injury Form Interrogatories

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

Discovery is an important part of any personal injury case.  Form Interrogatory Section 17.0 is labeled Responses to Request for Admissions.  This is commonly served in a personal injury case in conjunction with a Request for Admissions.  The text of Form Interrogatory Number 17.1 is:

Is your response to each request for admission served with these interrogatories an unqualified admission?  If not, for each response that is not an unqualified admission:

(a) state the number of the request;

(b) state all facts upon which you base your response;

(c) state the names, ADDRESSES, and telephone numbers of all PERSONS who have knowledge of those facts; and

(d) identify all DOCUMENTS and other tangible things that support your response and state the name, ADDRESS, and telephone number of the PERSON who has each DOCUMENT or thing.  Form Interrogatory 17.1 California Judicial Council Form DISC-001 (Revised January 1, 2008), Page 7 of 8.

 

The words in boldface capitals in the interrogatories are defined in Section 4 of Form Interrogatories-General.   ADDRESS is defined as “street address, including the city, state and zip code.”  PERSON means “a natural person, firm, association, organization, partnership, business, trust, limited liability company, corporation, or public entity.”  DOCUMENT means “a writing, as defined in Evidence Code section 250, and includes the original or a copy of handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostats, photographs, electronically stored information, and every other means of recording upon a tangible thing and form of communicating or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations of them.”

How, then, does a plaintiff or defendant answer Form Interrogatory Number 17.1?  Here is an example.   If the Request for Admission, Number 9 is “Please admit that YOU own the property where the PLAINTIFF was injured on the date of the INCIDENT,” and you did not admit the Request for Admission, the response would be

Response to Form Interrogatory Number 17.1:

No.

(a) Request for Admissions, Set One, Request 9;

(b) Defendant did not own the property where the Plaintiff was injured on the date of the incident because Defendant had sold the property to Cr0ss-Defendant City of Rancho Muscupiabe,  on August 21, 2009;

(c) Defendant, 300 E. State St. #517, Redlands, California, (909) 296-6708  Cr0ss-Defendant City of Rancho Muscupiabe, 1200 Hill Drive, Rancho Muscupiabe, CA 92407, (909) 708-6055.

(d) Quitclaim deed, a recorded copy which is in possession of Cross-Defendant  City of Rancho Muscupiabe, 1200 Hill Drive, Rancho Muscupiabe, CA 92407, (909) 708-6055.

 

If each response to the Request for Admission is an unqualified admission, then the answering party must simply respond to Form Interrogatory 17.1 in this way.
Response to Form Interrogatory Number 17.1:

Yes.

This interrogatory is an important tool because it explains why a party has denied a Request for Admissions, and allows the asking party to detail why the party is not admitting to certain facts.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Address: 300 E. State St. #517 Redlands CA 92373-5235

Telephone: (909) 296-6708