California Court of Appeal Affirms Trial Court’s Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Comply With the Government Claims Act

On February 28, 2023, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One, issued an opinion in Hernandez v. Stockton (2023 WL 3142328), affirming the trial court’s granting of a Motion for Summary Judgment on a civil action stemming from a purportedly dangerous condition on the City of Hayward’s public sidewalk.

The Appellant (Hernandez) claims he was injured in a trip and fall incident which occurred on March 25, 2018 at or near 230 E. Charter Way in Stockton. On April 9, 2018, the Appellant submitted a government claim for damages to the City alleging that his injuries occurred as a result of a dangerous condition on the property, specifically an uplifted sidewalk. On May 31, 2018, the Respondent (Stockton) rejected the government claim and on June 11, 2018 filed a Civil Complaint which alleged a dangerous condition on public property but did not provide any further detail.

Approximately, three years later, on March 19, 2021, the Respondent filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion was supported by the sworn deposition testimony of Appellant in which he stated that the accident occurred because he tripped in an empty tree well hole and admitted the accident did not occur due to uplifted sidewalk. The Motion for Summary Judgment was granted on the grounds that the Appellant’s claim was barred because the factual basis for recovery was not “fairly reflected” in its government claim, and rejected Appellant’s argument that the factual allegations were substantially similar as they both were premised on a differential in the sidewalk surface.

The Appellate Court reasoned that the purpose of the Government Claims Act is to provide public entity sufficient information to adequately investigate and, if appropriate, settle claims without the expense of litigation. The Court noted that the information provided by the Appellant did not provide adequate information to investigate the claim, as the City sent an inspector to the general area the accident was alleged and could not locate the purported sidewalk uplift.

The Appellate Court did not overturn previous decisions (such as Blair v. Superior Court (1990) 218 Cal. App. 3d 221) that held that when the allegations of dangerous conditions were timely asserted and the civil complaint merely “elaborates upon or provides further detail.”

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May 2, 2023