The Office of the City Clerk forwards all claims to the City Attorney’s Office for review.
Generally, the City Attorney’s Office will mail a courtesy letter to the claimant within 10-14 days of receipt of the claim.
This courtesy letter will advise the claimant of the following information:
- The timing of the claim review process;
- The burden of proof that the claimant must satisfy; and
- A listing of the types of evidence that will be considered during the claim review process.
After reviewing a claim, the City Attorney’s Office will mail a letter to the claimant advising the claimant of the disposition of the claim.
The City has up to 120 days to investigate a claim. No person may initiate a lawsuit against a City or its employees until a claim has been officially denied, or 120 days has passed since the filing of the claim.as City is not permitted to settle a claim unless substantial evidence establishes that the City may be legally liable. See Topeka Municipal Code 3.35.060.
The K.S.A. 12-105b claims process covers any type of tort claim made against the City. However, there are certain claims which are filed more frequently than others. While the following list is not exhaustive, the following frequently-filed types of claims, and the general legal standards regarding such claims may be helpful.
Potholes / Street Defects
In general, a City has a duty to keep its streets reasonably safe for their intended use. However, a City is liable for damage only if it knew or should have known of the existence of a defect in time to repair the defect, remove it, or give the public warning of its existence. The courts have held that at least 5 days’ notice of the defect is reasonable. Without prior knowledge and a failure to act, the City will not be liable for any damage caused by an alleged street defect.
A municipality is not liable for damage that is caused by a sewer back-up, unless it fails to act in a reasonable manner and its actions were the cause of the damages. A municipality is not legally required to guarantee a sewer system free from trouble, but it must use reasonable care in its inspection and maintenance practices so that the system will be reasonably safe for the use for which it is intended. If a back-up occurs on a line that is not owned by the City, or is on a line that the City regularly inspects and maintains, the City will not be liable for any damage caused by a back-up.
Water Main Break
As with sewer back-ups, the City is not an insurer and will not be held legally liable for such damage absent a showing of negligence on the part of the City. In order to establish liability, the claimant must show that the City did something that a reasonable person would not do or failed to do something that a reasonable person would do, and which caused the damage. Further, a property owner is financially responsible for any damage to his or her own structures, improvements, or additions that are placed within the City’s utility easements (right-of-way).
Police Damage to Property
Occasionally a person’s real or personal property may be damaged when police officers execute a search warrant, investigate a crime, or apprehend a suspect. In order to establish municipal liability, a claimant must demonstrate that the officers involved failed to exercise reasonable care and that the conduct at issue was the cause of the damage. Police officers are afforded a great deal of discretion in these types of matters. Kansas law applies “a standard of care higher than mere negligence, obligating plaintiffs to establish more consequential, material, and wanton acts to support a breach of the standard of care.” Robbins v. City of Wichita, 285 Kan. 455, 467, 172 P.3d 1187, 1196 (2007). The City will generally not be liable for any damage to property that occurs during a routine arrest or pursuit.