Can I sue a county or city government in California?
City, county, and state governments can be held liable in lawsuits the same as private citizens; however, the process regarding suing a county or city in California is far different and more complex than suing a person. This article details:

  • When a government entity can or cannot be held liable
  • How long you have to file your claim
  • And the complex process involved in filing your claim

Government entities are held to a higher standard than the public in their duty to act reasonably toward the people they govern. Just as with a private citizen, when negligent behavior from a public employee or entity leads to injury, be it intentional or due to dangerous conditions, the responsible entity can be held liable under California law.

Although the principle may be the same, the practice is vastly more complex. There are severe restrictions regarding who can be sued, why you can file claim against them, and how exactly to file said claim. To further complicate matters, the limit (known as a “statute of limitations”), is very short.

The information in this blog will help you determine whether or not to seek expert legal counsel.


When can I sue a city or county?

In cases between private parties, the regulations regarding lawsuits are simple: If one party acts negligently and causes injury to another, then the injured party can almost always sue. It’s not the same when filing a claim against a government.

With governments, there is the issue of “sovereign immunity”. Basically, this rule states that a public entity is not liable for any injury caused by it or its employees.

Despite this rule, there are exceptions. A few notable being:

  • Suing a city over failing to maintain public property (for example, a sidewalk) and this negligence causing your injury.
  • Suing a city over an employee’s negligent behavior (for example, a bus driver speeding and damaging your car).
  • Suing a school district for negligent behavior or violation of rights (for example, discriminating against your child)

The government may be immune to your claims, though. This could be true if it deals with failure to supervise activities on public property, failure to maintain property because there was no notice of damage, or negligence related to health inspections.

Of course, determining whether or not your particular case is valid requires assistance from a seasoned legal professional with knowledge of local law and legal precedent. Consider assistance in determining the validity of your claim before proceeding.

Find out why you should always collect evidence at the scene here


How do I file a claim against a government entity?

Filing claims against a city, county, or state is far different than against a private citizen. Before you file suit, you must submit a written claim for your damages to the government with:

  • Your name and address
  • A description of the incident (the date, place, and description of how you were injured)
  • A description of your damages (medical bills, loss of pay at work, etc.)
  • The mailing address to which you want notices of the claim sent

And other important details. For a comprehensive list, see here. If this claim is denied (which it almost certainly will be), then you can follow through with the lawsuit proceedings.


Is there a time limit on my lawsuit against the government?


The State of California imposes a strict six-month statute of limitations, meaning you only have six months to file your claim before it becomes void. If you do not file your written claim with the government within the time frame, the courts in all likelihood will not hear your case. It is also within your best interest financially to file a claim as soon as possible since doing so will help make a clearer case against the government (which may lead to a larger settlement).

It is possible to sue a city or county in California, but determining the validity and value of the case is extremely complex. Also, the process for filing is difficult for most citizens that don’t have experience with the system. If you’ve been injured due to the negligence of a government entity, contact personal injury lawyers in your area with experience holding the government accountable.


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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.