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Monday, August 19, 2019

Calif. SC says high school football player missed window to sue school district over alleged injury

By Melissa Busch | Mar 15, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – The California Supreme Court ruled March 6 to affirm a decision ruling that a high school football player who was allegedly injured during a game can’t file a claim because he waited too long.

The court ruled in J.M. v. Huntington Beach Union High School District that under the Government Claims Act, the 15-year-old student had six months from the date his application to the school district was denied to file a lawsuit. He should have a filed a claim on June 9, 2012. He retained counsel after the six-month period lapsed, and his attorney filed a petition on Oct. 24, 2012, for the relief from the obligation to present a claim before filing the suit.

According to court records, J.M. claims he was injured when he was tackled during a football game. On Oct. 31, 2011, he was diagnosed with a concussion.

J.M. did not file a timely claim with the district; his counsel applied to present a late claim to the district on Oct. 24, 2012, nearly a year after the injury action accrued. Though the district never responded to the application, it was deemed denied after 45 days under the Government Claims Act on Dec. 8, 2012, according to court records.

The plaintiff claimed that the district should have granted his application. 

According to high court’s opinion, J.M. was responsible for seeking relief in court from the “district’s deemed denial of his late claim application, even if the District was required to grant it. The court could readily have determined the merits of a timely application.”

The court also stated that the six-month window for filing a claim is “mandatory, not discretionary” and that even if the claimant is a minor there is no exception to the Government Claims Act. 

The court further ruled that the trial court properly dismissed the minor’s petition as untimely, according to the court opinion.

Although the appeals court upheld the decision, Justice Goodwin Liu said the “statutory scheme governing applications for leave to file a late claim raises an apparent anomaly that the Legislature may wish to address.”

Under the government code, if a public entity does not act on an application and it is “deemed denied,” like it happened here, the entity is not required to inform the minor of the denial or the time frame for contesting the denial.

According to Liu's opinion, “Without such notice, the minor is more likely to miss the petition deadline and thereby forfeit his claims.”

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