Claims Act Deadlines Extended 60 Days

by on March 22, 2020

posted in Claims Act,

Yesterday, the Governor issued another in a series of executive orders in light of the COVID-19 emergency.  We provide a separate update concerning that order’s suspension of portions of the Brown Act.  In this blog post, we note that this latest executive order also extended the time for filing or responding to any claim (often referred to as a “tort claim”) under the Claims Act.

Claims Background

Generally, persons who seek monetary compensation against local agencies must, before filing civil lawsuits, present a claim to the agencies either six months or one year from the dates their claims accrue.  (Generally, claims accrue on the date persons become reasonably aware they may have suffered harm for which they may seek compensation).  The failure to present a claim within either time usually precludes claimants from proceeding with their lawsuits.  (Claimants in these circumstances must obtain court permission to file late claims.)

Extension of Filing Deadlines

The latest executive order requires agencies to add 60 days to the applicable deadline for a particular claimant’s claim.  For example, if the deadline for filing a claim would be March 30, it is now extended by 60 days to May 29.

With the “stay-at-home” and “social distancing” directives the state is now under, many government agencies are closing their offices or significantly limiting public access.  Under these circumstances, claimants would find it difficult — and in some cases, impossible — to properly present their claims in the manner the Claims Act requires.  Clearly, these hardships justify the Governor’s action.

Local Agencies’ Responses

When local agencies receive claims under the Claims Act, they have 45 days to accept or reject the claims.  As of the date of this order, many agencies may be processing claims that were timely filed.

Just as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to expect claimants to submit claims during the current public-health emergency, it is equally unreasonable to expect agencies to formally act on the claims under the current circumstances.  Consequently, the agencies’ response deadlines are also extended by 60 days.  So, using the same example as above, if an agency’s last day to respond to a claim is March 30, that deadline is extended until May 29.

But there may be caveats.  Technically, the executive order states only that the State Department of General Services’ deadline to respond to claims is extended by 60 days.  (This is the agency that process government claims for the state).  The order does not expressly state that local agencies are entitled to the same extension.

I believe, however, that this is a matter of drafting oversight.  Given the hardships that justified the extension of deadlines, there is no reason to believe the Governor intended only for state agencies to have an additional 60 days to respond to claims.  Although it would be nice for the Governor’s Office to correct this apparent oversight, I believe local agencies can and should avail themselves of the additional 60 days for responding to the claims they process.

Also, the executive order doesn’t expressly state if it applies to just notices denying claims, or whether notices of insufficient claim or notices of untimely claims are also included.  Given the objective of relieving agencies from deadlines that are impractical to meet during this serious public-health emergency, it seems reasonable to assume the order applies to all the types of responses agencies can provide.

Hopefully the Governor’s Office will clarify these drafting issues in a future executive order.

tags: Claims Act, COVID-19, Executive Order,

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