Gross Inaccuracy in Claim Against City Was Akin to Failure to File a Claim, Barring Suit—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Filing a claim against a governmental entity that markedly misdescribed the nature of a city’s alleged negligence in the upkeep of a public sidewalk was tantamount to filing no claim at all, the Third District Court of Appeal has said.
The plaintiff, Manuel Sanchez Hernandez, filed a claim against the City of Stockton after he sustained severe injuries in a fall. In his claim, presented pursuant to the Government Claims Act (as a prerequisite to suing), he attributed the mishap to an “uplifted sidewalk” which, he contended, constituted a “dangerous condition.”
Under Government Code §835, a dangerous condition gives rise to liability, as an exception to immunity, under specified circumstances.
But in contrast to what was set forth in his claim, Hernandez testified in his deposition that he had stepped into a hole intended for a tree, but with no tree there. In opposing the city’s motion for summary judgment based on the disparity between what he said in the claim and in the deposition, Hernandez scoffed that the city was being picky.
In both the claim and in his testimony, he argued, he blamed the accident on a danger posed by the condition of the sidewalk.
San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Kronlund granted the city’s motion. In an opinion filed Friday, Justice Elana Duarte wrote for the Third District in affirming, saying:
“Plaintiff’s government claim specifically and solely identified an ‘uplifted sidewalk’ as the dangerous condition that caused his injuries. By contrast, in this action, liability is premised on a different dangerous condition—a hole created by an empty tree well….[T]he complaint did not allege an uneven sidewalk surface of any kind, and the condition that was ultimately revealed to be the subject of the lawsuit was a hole in an area devoid of cement sidewalk surface, in an area clearly intended for a tree rather than for pedestrian traffic. No area of the sidewalk was ‘uplifted’ by any stretch of the imagination.
“This is the type of factual variance that is fatal to a civil action filed against a public entity following the rejection of a government claim, since it amounts to a complete shift in allegations. Courts have consistently held that a civil action (or a claim alleged therein) is barred when, as here, the complaint premises liability on an entirely different factual basis than that stated in the government claim….Such actions or claims are barred because they subvert the purpose of the Government Claims Act, which is intended to give the public entity an opportunity to investigate and evaluate its potential liability and, where appropriate, avoid litigation by settling meritorious claims.”
The deposition testimony, Duarte said, was not an elaboration on what was contained in the claim but, rather, a departure from it.
The case is Hernandez v. City of Stockton, 2023 S.O.S. 1279.
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