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What is a Tort Case, and What does it Involve in California?

Tort cases are civil violations of the law by a person or system that causes some form of damage to another individual. The nature of the damage often leads to the violating person or system being culpable to legal action. In California, the liable party is called the "tortfeasor", while the victim is referred to as the plaintiff. Unless there is an appeal to the higher courts of jurisdiction, Superior Courts handle tort cases exclusively in California. There is a Superior Court in each of the 58 counties of the state. To file a tort case, the plaintiff or legal representative must demonstrate the damages suffered were direct as a result of the tortfeasor's actions.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What is California Tort Law?

Tort Law is a subset of California laws that handles civil breaches by a party against another, which entitles the victim to compensation. California Tort Claims Act is uniques in some ways:

  • It allows persons to file written claims against state establishments within six months of the alleged damage. This is opposed to the doctrine of sovereign immunity of federal establishments
  • There is a limit to the amount of monetary compensation a claimant can get for medical injuries (a maximum of $250,000), based on the provisions of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA).
  • California rules of evidence guidelines differ from the Federal Rules of Evidence. Also known as California Evidence Distinctions, the differences have proven to influence the outcome of a tort case significantly.
  • There is an added category to the types of tort violations known as 'reckless misconduct'.
  • The Act recognizes that the blame of injury could be divided between both parties, being referred to as 'comparative negligence'. In this way, persons who are responsible for over half the blame for their injuries recover more quickly.

What Kinds of Cases are Covered by Tort Law in California?

California's Superior Courts hear a wide variety of tort cases every year. Some of them are listed here:

  • Neglect
  • Wilful application of stress or emotional discomfort
  • Abuse
  • Violence / Assault
  • Infractions
  • Products Liability

What are the Differences Between Criminal Law and Tort Law in California?

A close look at the California Criminal Code and Civil Code (which embodies tort law) reveals differences in their provisions in terms of structure and principle:

Criminal cases do not require a victim's consent to be prosecuted. Tort cases are filed on the prerogative of the plaintiff.

Wrongs in criminal law are public by definition, while the same is interpreted as private in tort cases.

In tort, the harm is the basis for filing for a remedy; in criminal matters, it does not matter if anyone was hurt or not. In criminal law, the injury may be directed at others, at self, or only have the potential to do so. In other words, the harm is defined based on the moral values of the community

The penalties for criminal cases are stiffer, typically a loss of freedom or death. Therefore, there are more thorough legal procedures for criminal cases which serve to protect the defendant's rights to a fair judgment. Penalties for tort cases, on the other hand, are much more limited in severity.

The conduct of the victim is of little contribution to the outcome of the case in criminal, while it is significant in tort law.

What is the Purpose of Tort Law in California?

California Tort laws and Claim Acts serve some purposes:

  • To compensate the victim of damages
  • To ensure that the defendant takes appropriate responsibility for the wrongdoing that was caused and pay for it
  • To serve as a deterrent for future negligence or liability
  • To reinforce standard social standards

What is a Tort Claim in California?

A 'Tort Claim' by California laws is a mandatory preliminary notification of the court of an injury or the detection of damage caused by a public entity. By implication, a tort claim must be filed before a formal lawsuit

How Do You File a Tort Claim in California?

Based on the Presentation and Consideration of Claims Section of the California Government Code, the following steps are necessary to file a tort claim in the state:

Pick up a claim form at the municipal office nearest to the claimant, or prepare a written report. Sign the form or statement and attach evidence of a payment of $25 to the application. If the claimant cannot afford the fee, fill out an affidavit requesting a fee waiver. Ensure the date of the filing is indicated on the payment receipt or affidavit. Submit to the appropriate authority. For claims against state employees, submit the form at:

Government Claims Program
Office of Risk and Insurance Management
Department of General Services
P.O. Box 989052 MS-414
West Sacramento, CA 95798-9052

For more inquiries, call (800) 955-0045 or send a fax message to (916) 376-6387. Otherwise, send an email.

For claims against the State Department of Transportation that are less than $10,000, submit to the address below:

Department of Transportation
1120 N St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

To make inquiries, call (916) 654-2852, or visit the Claims Page for more information.

For claims against cities or counties in the state, submit at their municipal offices. Larger cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose offer online assistance in this regard. Submissions later than six months of the date of injury or discovery of damage will not be approved.

What Does a Tort Claim Contain in California?

Tort claim must contain the following details:

  • Full names and postal address of the claimant
  • Post office address to which the claimant wishes to have claim notices delivered
  • The event that warranted the claim, providing the date, the location and other circumstances under which it took place
  • A clear description of loss, damage, injury, or obligation incurred as at the time of the claim
  • Name(s) of the public employee(s) that caused the damage, injury, loss or obligation, if known.
  • If the amount claimed is less than $10,000, state it and provide a monetary estimate of the damages caused till date, and of any prospective damages, there would be in the future. Also, report the basis of the estimation of damages. For claims greater than $10,000, do not write out the amount, but indicate it as a limited civil case. Limited civil litigation refers to claims that are less than $25,000, and do not require a court injunction, an enforcement order, or an action for declaratory relief.

What Happens after a Tort Claim is Filed in California?

When the tort claim is filed, the receiving authority reviews the application and provides feedback to the claimant on possible amendments. Such amendments must be made to get the claim approved. There is a waiting time of 45 days from the date of filing. There are several possible outcomes of a filed tort claim:

  • No response ( this means the receiving authority rejects the claim)
  • Approval- may be in whole or part. The tortfeasor may negotiate a compromise to the claim, or agree to pay the full amount filed.
  • Rejection- the tortfeasor rejects the claim in writing or states that it contains insufficient information. Insufficient information is usually remedied by returning it to the claimant for amendment.
  • Returned - the claim is returned because the filing date exceeds six months from the time of injury or discovery of the injury.

Why Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Tort Claim?

Personal injury lawyers have a vast knowledge of the tort law and the state system. Also, under their experience, they can provide legal advice terms of:

  • How much compensatory relief to claim for the injury
  • What to do if complications in the case arise, such as a late filing of a claim. 

How Can I Find a Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me?

The State Bar of California maintains a directory of Attorneys in the state. Use the list to locate a personal injury lawyer. Alternatively, use the index compiled by the Cornell University Law School.

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