In California, before you sue a public entity (a state, county or local governmental entity) or a person acting in their capacity as a government employee for money damages, you must first file a claim which meets the requirements of the California Tort Claims Act (see California Government Code sections 810-996.6). With very limited exceptions, no lawsuit for money damages may be brought against a governmental entity unless a written claim has been properly filed within the six-month time limit. The California Tort Claims Act sets out the procedures you must follow when filing a claim against the government for money damages. Here we describe the most significant parts of the Act based on the laws in effect at the date of this writing, which are, of course, subject to change. Also, depending on the type of action you are bringing, other procedures and time limits may apply. You may seek the advice of an attorney to get more specific information about your potential claim.
When a claim is necessary
You might choose to sue the City of Santa Ana for a variety of reasons. Some reasons might be that the City has violated your rights, or is responsible for a death, physical injury, or property damage. If the city injures you, this injury is called a "tort." The person filing the "tort claim" is called the "claimant”. In most cases you, as the claimant, must file a tort claim if you are trying to get money or "damages" from the City (see Government Code sections 905, 905.2).
How to file a claim
You may file a claim against the City by delivering it to Clerk of the Council office by mail or in person (see Government Code section 915 (a)). Be sure your claim is against the City of Santa Ana, and not another public entity. The address for the Clerk of the Council is:
City of Santa Ana
Clerk of the Council, M-30
20 Civic Center Plaza
Santa Ana, CA 92701
You can ask for a claim form by calling the Clerk of the Council at (714) 647-6520, or Risk Management at (714) 647-5470. You can also download it here.
If you deliver the claim in person, the filing date is the delivery date. If you mail the claim, the filing date is the mailing date, not the date the city receives the claim.
Contents of the claim
According to Section 910 of the government code, a claim against the city must contain the following:
- The name and post office address of the claimant.
- The post office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent.
- The date, place, and circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted. That is, describe what happened and how you were injured.
- A general description of the indebtedness, obligation, injury, damage, or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim.
- The name or names of the public employee or employees causing the injury, damage, or loss, if known.
- The amount claimed if it totals less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed. If the amount claimed exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), no dollar amount shall be included in the claim. However, it shall indicate whether the case would be a limited civil case. (See Government Code Section 910(f) and California Civil Code of Procedure sections 85, 86).
A "Limited Civil Case" depends on the amount of money damages you are seeking and what else you are asking the city to do. Generally, a case is a limited civil case if the amount of money you are seeking is less than $25,000 and you are not asking for any of the following:
- A permanent injunction. That is, a court order granted after a final hearing which commands or prevents the governmental entity from taking the action complained about
- A determination of title to real property
- Enforcement of an order under the Family Code
- Declaratory relief (asking the court to make a statement which establishes the rights and other legal relations of the parties without ordering enforcement), except as is allowed by Code of Civil Procedure Section 86.
(See Code of Civil Procedure Section 580)
The California Tort Claims Act sets out strict timelines that you must follow when filing a claim against the City. You must file a claim for personal injury (that is, one based on death, physical injury, or damage to personal property) within six months of the date of the injury (see Government Code section 911.2).
If you are filing a claim after six (6) months from the date of incident, but not exceeding one (1) year, you must apply for leave to present a late claim. The application for leave to present a late claim to the City of Santa Ana may be obtained from the Clerk of the Council, Risk Management, or city website (see Government Code section 911.4(a)). In the application, you must state the reason(s) that you did not file the claim within six months from the date of injury, and you must include an actual claim (see Government Code section 911.4(b)).
What happens to the claim once it is filed
After you file a claim, the city must respond (allow or reject the claim in whole or in part) within 45 days. If the city does not respond, the claim is rejected by operation of law on the 45th day (see Government Code sections 912.6(a), 912.4(c)).
Suing the city if the claim is rejected
If the City rejects the claim in whole or in part, you have six months from the date the notification is mailed to file a lawsuit against the city (see Government Code sections 913, 945.6(a)(1)).
If the City fails to notify you of its action, such failure is treated as a rejection of the claim (as discussed above) and you have two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit (see Government Code section 945.6(a)(2)).
As explained above, other time limits and procedures may also apply to your type of case. You may seek the advice of an attorney to get more specific information relevant to your situation.