As a general principle, the state — or more particularly, the state government — is immune from lawsuit, under the principle of sovereign immunity. In short, public entities are not usually held liable for injury caused by the public entity or its employees.

But yes, in California, there are instances when you may file civil liability claims against the state. Under the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA), certain kinds of personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, and breach of contract, among others, are grounds for a lawsuit.

Before you sue a public entity, you must file a claim directly with that entity’s governing board, under the guidelines set by the CTCA. You have six months from the date of damage/injury to file a claim. If you fail to do so, you are barred from suing the state for money damages. The reason for this rule is to allow the defendant (the agency/entity you plan to sue) some time to investigate the claim.

The public entity has 45 days to respond to your claim. If they find that your claim has merit, they may reach out and offer you a settlement. Otherwise — if they don’t respond at all, or if they send you a written notice informing you of your “right to sue” — you can take your case to court. The California Government Code stipulates that you must sue within six months of receiving a “right to sue” letter, or within two years from the date of sustaining the injury/damage.

There are some circumstances where permission to file a late claim is granted, such as mistake/inadvertence/surprise/excusable neglect (which does not include ignorance of the law), or a claimant’s status as a minor, a claimant’s mental/physical incapacity, or a claimant’s death. If none of those circumstances apply to you, you may try filing a claim anyway. Failure on the part of the public entity to challenge the claim for untimeliness within the 45-day response period means that they’re waiving the use of “untimeliness” as a defense against you in court.

The key is to consult with a lawyer with experience in these kinds of claims, who will be able to help you with the often difficult endeavor of suing the state.

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