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Can I Bring a Wrongful Death Claim Against a Government Agency?

Losing a loved one is always difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, when your loved one's death is connected to the negligent, reckless, or criminal actions of another person, company, or agency, it can be all the more frustrating and devastating. California law allows for those considered to be "next of kin" to pursue wrongful death claims against the liable party or parties. So what happens when that liable party is a government agency or employee? Do the laws and statutes change? Should you approach the case differently? Read below to get informed on your rights.

What You Need to Know Before Filing

If you want to file a wrongful death claim against the government, you will likely need to make sure that your claim is valid and permitted by the Federal Tort Claims Act. FTCA only allows for certain types of federal employees and agencies to be sued. Not only that, but there are a number of strict limitations and guidelines enforced upon these types of claims.

For example, the following may apply to cases brought under FTCA:

  • Independent contractors can't be sued through the government unless treated like employees.
  • Negligent actions must have occurred within the scope of the agent's employment.
  • Intentional misconduct claims are limited to certain cases against federal law enforcement.
  • The negligence claim must meet the laws and statutes set out by California.

Why You Need to File an Administrative Claim

It is important to understand that any injury or wrongful death claim brought against a government agency will face much more complex requirements and guidelines. If you don't follow the proper steps, your claim could be denied. While in normal negligence claims you typically go straight to the court, government claims are handled differently.

If you want to sue a government agency, you must first:

  • Obtain the government's proper form for your claim;
  • File a special "administrative claim" with the office or agency before filing in court;
  • Include specific details on the amount of damages you're claiming and facts of the case; and
  • Ensure that you have filed within the proper timeframe for your specific claim.

Once your claim has been filed, the government has six months to respond. If your claim is denied, you will have the opportunity to file a lawsuit in court within six months from the date of your denial.

If you don't file your claim within the statute of limitations for government claims, you could be denied an opportunity to have your case heard in court. It is best to discuss your specific case with a qualified wrongful death lawyer to determine what your legal options are.

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