A victim who has been rear-ended by a police officer may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages, but this type of suit will be handled differently than those against civilian drivers. Lawsuits against police officers or firefighters are governed by different laws than those that control private lawsuits. The statute of limitations and other rules governing these lawsuits mean they must be approached carefully to avoid violating any of these regulations.
Litigating Against a Public Entity
The California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335, outlines the rules for filing a personal injury lawsuit. However, this Section may not cover the proper procedure for lawsuits against public entities.
Many of the rules that apply in lawsuits against negligent civilians do not apply to public entities and their employees. Public entities are protected by law from most lawsuits through immunities, restrictions, and requirements for claim presentation as well as a different statute of limitations. Most of these rules appear in California Government Code Section 810, also known as the “Tort Claims Act.”
In order to determine if your claim is against a public entity or a person who is not covered by public immunity, your attorney may ask several questions. The attorney is trying to determine whether your claim will be against a public entity while taking into account the following important points:
- Was the person or group who caused your injury covered by the Act?
- Is the type of relief you are seeking covered by the Act?
- Is there a statutory basis for liability on the part of the person or agency in question?
- Does immunity apply?
Who Is Covered By The Act?
The term “public entities” and the term “public employees” have broad definitions. According to the Act, public entities essentially includes all state, city, county and district employees, authorities and agencies. This definition encompasses judicial officers as well as civil servants and does not depend on compensation.
What Type of Relief is Allowed Under the Act?
The Act covers all tort claims as well as contract disputes. However, the Act does not apply to federal civil rights litigation nor to lawsuits involving non-monetary relief such as an injunction or writ of mandamus.
What is the Basis of Liability Allowed in the Act?
The most important thing to understand about the Act is that it provides a different basis of liability that common law liability. Under the Act, several grounds for lawsuits are given but they are different than those allowed for civil lawsuits against private individuals. All public entities and their employees are conferred immunity unless there exists a reason under one of the Act’s basis of liability sections that the victim can sue.
Who Has Immunity?
Many people assume that anyone who works for the state or a government agency has automatic immunity, but this is not true. While employees have immunity within the scope of their duties, they can be held liable if they act outside that framework. In fact, in some cases, such as fraud, the basis for liability on the part of a public entity or its employees may actually be broader than that against private citizens.
Therefore, whether you can sue a police officer for rear-ending you depends largely on what the officer was doing at the time of the crash. If he or she was pursuing a violent offender, there is a greater chance the officer will have immunity than if he or she was sending personal texts at the time of the crash.
The Administrative Claim Process
A lawsuit against a public entity or the employee of such an entity may not be possible until the victim has filed an administrative claim. Depending on the public entity, the victim may be required to file this claim within a certain time period and have it adjudicated before receiving permission to file a lawsuit in civil court.
A personal injury attorney can help you determine if you can recover damages when you are injured by a public entity. In most cases, you can recover, at minimum, your medical bills and other direct costs. In many cases, you may also be entitled to other payments.