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Suing the Government

In my experience, most people tend to have a good intuition about how to sue a private person, such as someone who has damaged or broken your property. That intuition also applies — with minor differences — to suing a corporation, limited liability company, or other entity. When it comes to suing the government, though, the rules change significantly and most people’s intuition tends to let them down.

I don’t know where the rumor started, but you can indeed sue the city, county, state, and federal government. This post, though, is not going to cover suing the federal government, but instead I’m going to go over how to sue the city, county, and state in California under something called the California Tort Claims Act.

Two things I want to mention first:

  • First, you might think that you would never sue the government itself (e.g. State of California, City of San Diego, etc), but remember that the government — like any entity — acts through individuals. Thus, if you’ve been injured or damaged as a result of the actions of a city, county, or state employee (e.g. city police officer, public school teacher, etc), it’s the city, county, or state that may be ultimately responsible.
  • Second, if you ever do find yourself in a position where you might have to sue the government, please do find a lawyer to help you. As I’ll describe generally below, the rules for suing the government are very specialized and strict. In general, it is not something you can wing or simply figure out. Spend the money and effort to find a lawyer who knows these rules to help you.

One thing that can often vary when suing the government as opposed to a private individual or entity is the Statute of Limitations that applies. In many instances, the statute of limitations can be dramatically shorter simply because the defendant in question worked for the government. If you miss your Statute of Limitations, you can’t sue.

Claim Forms
The most common item I have seen people be surprised by when suing the government is the requirement to submit a claims form. In essence, when you sue the government in California, you generally have to submit a written document called a claim form to the government agency in question first. The claim form describes who you are, how you came to be injured or damaged, what amount of money you’re seeking, and why you believe that agency is the one responsible.

The bad news is that there is no universal claims form. Each branch or division of the government (e.g. police department, public school district, etc) will have its own claim form. The good news is that many of these claims forms are readily available either online or by going to the branch or division in question (e.g. police station). For example, if you allege that Caltrans injured or damaged you in some way, there is a website for that. Here are the forms for filing a claim for damages and injury against the City of San Francisco as well as the City of Los Angeles and County of Los Angeles.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. You’ll most likely be able to find the right form via a google search or two.

Timing of Claim Forms
Most people have no idea that they have to file a claim form when suing the government. If this is your situation, you unfortunately not only have to file a claim form before actually suing the government in court, you have to file the claim form within a specified time. Under California Government Code section 911.2, the time limit is 6 months for claims for personal injury, death, or damage to personal property. However, because the law is funny this way, there is no single time period that applies to all situations. Check the law for your personal situation or, as I mentioned earlier, find a lawyer familiar with the rules about government claim forms.

This 6-month clock starts when the cause of action accrues, which is generally when the final element needed for the lawsuit is established. My rule of thumb for this is that this is when the person/claimant knows of the injury and knows that the government (e.g. the city) caused it. As a general rule, the 6-month clock does **not** start when the person/plaintiff discovers that a claim form is required.

If you don’t file a claim form at all, it is very possible that you may be prevented from suing the government even though you were definitely injured and even though the government was completely at fault.

Once A Claim Form is Filed
Assuming you file a claim form within the specified time period, the next step is that the government agency in question (e.g. police department) has 45 days under California Government Code section 911.3(a) within which to approve or reject your claim. If you don’t receive an approval or a rejection within those 45 days, your claim is automatically deemed rejected under California Government Code section 912.4(c).

If your claim is approved, then you win and get whatever money you were seeking.

If your claim is rejected, though, you then have 6 months under section 945.6(a)(1) of the California Government Code within which to file an actual lawsuit in court. When you do, you’ll need to prove/show that you did indeed file a claim form.




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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.


  1. Hi, I was involved in a boundary dispute with an architect neighbor who was not only a serial encroacher, but also was in violation of city/county codes. During the toxic tort claiming that he was entitled to an outright ownership of my land, we discovered that he had doubled the size of his house without permits and portion of his illegal additions were encroaching onto our setback.
    Unfortunately, the judge was buddies with one of the neighbor’s attorneys who happened to be the chair of code enforcement appeal board for the neighboring town. The neighbor never produced his appraisal report and had bribed county employees to coverup his crimes. The former Mark Peterson left the investigation unfinished before being arrested. Our city officials removed another encroachment built by the architect, but refused to help us. We have been told that we have a discrimination case against the city. We tried to appeal as pro pers, but to no avail.

  2. The DPSS DDSD has taken years to comply with judge orders, wrongfully denied medical coverage, negligence , non compliance,contempt of court all apply.I was found disabled and ALJ order says they filed NOA incorrectly.I have suffered greatly ended up homeless, denied medical treatment, medicine, physical theraphy , vestibular theraphy.Need to find an atty what should took maybe a few months has taken years.

  3. I am being forced into homelessness. Rights of equality are taken from the poverty stricken and disabled.I have a 22 year old son who suffers mental illness and cannot work. I do not have family support or any resources to help me us become self sufficient. The Government claims disabled people get subsidized housing. Untrue only a handful do. These subsidies are not available or we wouldn’t be homeless. We have a right to be able to provide shelter no matter how much our earning potential is. I need help suing the County of Los Angeles for not providing me with resources I’ve been thrown out like garbage. I demand equality and the resources to become self sufficient I’m sick of being looked at as lazy and a drain on society. Everyone should have shelter food and the opportunity to better their lives. the County and government say that these subsidies exist not True. I have to fight back or I’m afraid me and my son will die on the streets. The truth is homelessness is revenue. The wealthy stay in control and the disabled are poverty stricken I need a lawyer that will help me sue for my rights and my son’s rights. Please help me

    • I have a situation in San Diego County for my disabled son with severe developmental delays and autism. It will likely result in my loss of employment and inability to have a physical relationship with my son. Like you, I am tired of being invisible and having lifelong damning decisions made by people completely ignorant or apathetic to Special needs.

  4. Just went down on my skateboard on Gresham street worst street ever have pictures and a witness of my scars

  5. I’m a mentally and physically disabled adult, PTSD, Epilepsy, others conditions, i been wrongfully terminated, denied benefits, Admin, Judge, Appeal specialist, ruled in my favor, I’m appealing right NOW go back March 13, i had a hearing date February 27, this new administration judge making me prove my PTSD, I’m on SSI benefits because of PTSD since 2000, July 3, My Epilepsy seizure started 10 year ago max. They making ME prove my Mental disabilities, this been going on for years, the county negligent malpractice, help Christ sake. 1-424-297-9573

  6. I am a California Licensed chikdcare providee who was recently shut down on a TSO for over capacity. I have been intimindated, placed on “surveillance” bullied and harassed by CCLD DPSS. Throughout the years, I have made formal written complaints to DPSS regional directors, upper management in Sacramento and the Govener. There is no protocol in place to make formal complaints about Analyst. All of my appeals, with the exception of one have been out right ignored. One was responded to because I filed a complaint with Sacramento who called the RM and made him reply. I am scheduled for an Administrative Hearing, and in my disclosures state that I was asked to not record CCLD while they were in my premesis. CCLD analyst were interviewing 3 year children asking who their mother was, their age, if a lot of children were here everyday, while a second analyst was outside literally running after parents demanding their contact information. Because of these actions, they were asked to leave, when they refused I calls the Police. Another analyst came to my home for a complaint, no one was home, she stayed on the premises for 1 hour before going to her vehicle, turning her car around and facing it toward the daycare. She was also approaching neighbors asking them if they have seen me or kids present in the daycare that day. Neighbors called me I returned to the analyst and 2 police officers on my property going towards the rear of the property. Allowed analyst in the empty home, police told her she must leave. I called her RM & his boss that day, they assured me she would not return and that they would talk to her. I requested a written report that she was there, no report was given, until I received my disclosures. Another report for a similar incident was written 6 months after the visit.
    I presently have 54 providers that signed a petition with the same type of harassment, complaints, personal rights violated, bullying, and intimidation ie “we will close you down.” “We will show you how much power we have” we can talk to anyone, anytime we want.” I have been very outspoken with CCLD over the years. Reports have been made that analyst were following up for “complaints” but the reports read differently- they state follow up visits. I would love some insight on my rights. I have at least 30 other providers that will sign my petition, however many are afraid of retaliation and don’t want to lose their license.

  7. I was a ward of the state of cali for 6 years. I was never given a social secutiry # or birth certificate. Im now 30 Years old and havr barley been able to start my life do to this. Do i have a case against the state of california children services. All though its been years i am still being affected by the fact i was never registered.

  8. Harrasment , Retaliation, Violations of Due Process , Cover up , Hush order, Non Compliance to a State Appeals Hearing . Falsifying official Forms and the list goes on .
    DPSS Government Inquiries corrupt! Gain Service corrupt!
    Department of Social Service corrupt!

  9. Was in san hell Diego for 3 months boyfriend and I were forced to be homeless when we both have homes out of state when we finally made it out of there alive amazingly I ended up in the hospital with a bacterial blood infection that tried to shut down my kidney oh yeah from drinking their water not to even mention we had to get the hepatitis a shot when we got there I’ve never been anywhere on vacation and found it to be mandatory to be vaccinated and we have traveled all over these lands I also ended up with a heart attack due to all the unnecessary stress and inhuman treatment of being forced to live in piss and shit and I think It was vomit on every sidewalk all human waste I might add so yes I would highly enjoy having san hell Diego have to pay me for all the pain grief and misery I still suffer from being in the finest city my ass

  10. So something goes wrong with me when I’m exposed to marijuana , the worst case scenario , state of mind goes beyond what i can bare . Now that it’s legal in Cali, my fear has doubled I stay inside more an now im going to be forced to move out of state because it’s everywhere now , is it fair for me to have to live in fear now that it’s legal and more usage is being done , when I get into this state of mind I cant live like this im seeking help with my psychosis in a outpatient program , but I still live in fear everyday, can I sue for damages for being terrified, suicidal , having, depression, anxiety ECT.. due to there decision on legalizing marijuana. please contact, this is the worst feeling in the world

  11. Do you sue the City of Los Angeles, or do you have a good referral that does this?

  12. I was driving on I-580 when a traffic sign dislodged from its post n struck my van causing $ 6900 in damage van was in shop 3 weeks causing me not to be able to work and the state of California rejected my claim due to complex issues (Caltrans is responsible)


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