SF Muni Railway Lawsuits: Specific Procedural Requirements & Possible Damages

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you’ve been injured on one of Muni’s light rail vehicles, bus systems, trolleys or streetcars, it’s important to know that filing a lawsuit against the San Francisco Municipal (Muni) Railway public transportation system – a common carrier – has specific procedural requirements. Our legal expert explains the process and what damages might be available available to accident victims.

Common carrier vs. private lawsuits: How the process differs

How does a lawsuit against a common carrier differ from a private lawsuit? J. Niley Dorit, a California attorney whose practice represents those injured by the San Francisco Municipal (Muni) Railway System, says there are two big differences for which injured victims should be aware – the six month deadline for Muni cases and the fact that Muni has a strict obligation to provide safe passage to its passengers. He explained the general process of filing a lawsuit against Muni:

The general process is that within the first six months, a written claim has to be presented to the City and County of San Francisco. It has to have certain technical information in it and has to be received by them within that time frame. Then, the city and county has a period of time within which they are expected to act on that and either accept or reject it. Invariably, those claims are viewed as just a prerequisite to a lawsuit, so they’re generally rejected. In fact, I’ve never had one that’s been accepted.

Once the claim is rejected, there is a second six-month time period during which the lawsuit has to be filed. So, it’s really a precondition to filing a lawsuit, but it has to be done in a timely fashion or else the right to file a lawsuit has been lost.

Why are claims rejected every time?

The concept of the claim process is that it’s supposed to give the Municipal Railway system, or any governmental entity, an opportunity to review and consider the claim, according to Dorit. However as a practical matter, he says they’re always rejected. He explained:

I can only speculate as to the reason why, which is that the City of San Francisco and the Municipal Railway system, having rejected all the claims, results in some of those claimants simply never filing suit or letting the time run. So, just by allowing for the passage of time, a lot of those claims go away without any payments having to be made. I’m not aware of a substantial amount ever being paid at the pre-litigation claims process.

Recoverable damages

The damages that are recoverable in Muni cases are generally the same as in private lawsuits between two private vehicles, according to Dorit, who says that once the six month claim requirements are satisfied and the suit is filed, you generally have many of the same rights against the city or the Municipal Railway system that you have against a private defendant. He explained what damage might be recoverable:

The damages that are available are for lost income, medical expenses and pain/suffering. So if there is an impact to a person’s quality of life, which we can call pain and suffering, it can range anywhere from a minor injury up to a catastrophic injury where a person really has no quality of life or a greatly diminished quality of life if they’re in a coma, a vegetative state or paralyzed.

The other category is for lost income or the lost potential ability to earn an income. And finally, an injured person has the right to claim past and future medical expenses. In catastrophic cases where there will be substantial future hospitalizations and daily home health care services, those costs can be recoverable against Muni.

If you’ve been injured by a Muni vehicle, contact an experienced California personal injury attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries – but don’t forget the six month deadline to file.

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