Speak To An Attorney Today 323-524-8994


Pursuing Personal Injury Claims Against Public Employees and Entities

Posted by Alan Fassonaki | May 17, 2023


In the post we discuss the process of accurately identifying the public entities and employees in a personal injury case. Before bringing a personal injury claim against a government entity or employee, there are a number of intricate considerations that must be made, and personal injury attorneys must be careful to name the right public employee or entity. There are several measures that can be followed to accurately identify public defendant(s) in a personal injury case. We discuss some of the difficulties that might be faced and provide some suggestions for how to minimize any problems that might arise.

Finding the Right Defendant

It's critical to comprehend the legal terminology in order to determine whether the entity you wish to submit a claim against for personal injury falls under the category of a public entity. According to Government Code 811.2, the phrase "public entity" refers to a variety of political and governmental entities in the state of California. The purpose of the definition, according to the Law Revision Commission Comment to Government Code 811.2, is "to include every kind of independent political or governmental entity in the State." The Secretary of State and county clerk of each county keep a record of local public agencies in the Registry of Public Agencies. The registry can be used as a reference to locate the proper governmental agencies. The Government Claims Act defines a "public employee" as a person who works for a public organization, including officers, judicial officers, workers, and servants, whether or not they are paid. Independent contractors are not covered, and therefore do not have the same rights and protections as employees. The definition of "employment" includes both "office or employment." Public employees in California have immunity protection under the Government Claims Act.

Complexities in the Process

The process of determining the appropriate public entity in the context of personal injury cases is complex. Firstly, the plaintiff in a lawsuit against a public entity for personal injury must determine whether the entity is independent or a subsidiary of another entity. Subsidiaries are not independently responsible for their torts. If the entity is a subsidiary, the claim and action must be filed against the parent entity. Care in identifying the defendant is essential. The criteria for identifying independent entities, as distinct from mere subsidiaries, include a governing body separate from that of the city, county, or district, statutory power to own property, levy taxes, or incur indebtedness in its own name, and continuous and permanent functions requiring substantial equipment and personnel.

Identifying the correct public entity employer for court personnel is also a complex issue. The supreme court and courts of appeal are clearly considered state agencies, but there are ambiguities at the trial court level. While trial courts are integral units in the statewide administration of justice, financial and geographic considerations tend to associate these courts and their personnel with county government for some purposes. According to the Government Code, superior court judges are employees of the state, but an Attorney General opinion classifies them as employees of the county for the purposes of defense and indemnification in actions pertaining to their duties.

Problems may also arise in claims against ex officio personnel, which are public officers and employees of existing public entities who are designated as officers and employees of other entities in many statutes and charter provisions. For example, a city or county employee may perform services for another entity as well as for the county that selects and pays them. However, the case law is unclear on which entity should be held liable for their tortious acts in a personal injury case. Some cases suggest that the county clerk acting ex officio as a superior court clerk is not generally in county employment, while others indicate that the county may be liable for the clerk's tortious acts.

Useful Insights to the Process

To determine whether vicarious liability exists in a personal injury case under Govt C §815.2(a), it is crucial to establish whether the person responsible for the act is an employee of the government entity. In cases where the identity of the tortfeasor is unknown, further investigation or research may be necessary. Local government employment relationships are not always similar to those in private employment. To establish entity liability, the personal injury plaintiff only needs to prove that some employee committed an act that would be actionable. However, when a plaintiff alleges a public entity is vicariously liability for an employee's common law negligence, the employee must at least be specifically identified. It may be useful to note that the Government Claims Act provides immunity protection to public employees in California. Court cases have established that police officers, public prosecutors, public administrators, and fish and game enforcement employees are public employees protected by this act. 


Identifying the correct public entity or employee in order to bring a tort claim against them can be a complicated process for personal injury cases. The law is often unclear about the specifics of such determinations and case law has often taken conflicting views on who is a public employee and who they are employed by. There is often an overlap between county and state employees and entities, and it is important to carefully make this consideration before filing a claim. There is a need for prudent investigation and identification of the correct defendants in a personal injury case, and it is up to the personal injury attorney to make these efforts to ensure that their clients' claims are dealt with in the best possible way.

About the Author

Alan Fassonaki

What inspired me to practice personal injury law? I was 9 and imagining the win. My mother was driving me to my basketball game. My older sister came along to support me. While on the road, I thought about practice and replayed our team's game-plan in my mind. Suddenly, I hea...

Contact Us Today

Fassonaki Law Firm, P.C. is committed to answering your questions about Personal Injury law issues in Los Angeles, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Woodland Hills, West Hills, and the San Fernando Valley.

We'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact Us today to schedule an appointment.