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Injury Claims Against the Government

Most governments have enacted laws about filing an injury claim against them. Through these laws (usually called the Tort Claims Act or Federal Tort Claims Act), the federal government, state governments, and city governments have given up or waived immunity to legal liability for an accident or injury.

If you do not follow the rules for these laws (including giving the government prompt notice of your injury), you will lose the right to receive any compensation for injuries caused by the government or a government representative.

You will need to follow strict guidelines if your personal injury suit involves a claim against:

  • The federal government
  • A state government
  • A local government entity or employee

This includes the rule that you file a notice of claim within as few as 60 days after your injury. Governments and their subdivisions are entitled to immunity to liability and lawsuits. This means they cannot be sued without permission.

This article discusses sovereign immunity and other considerations in injury cases against a government entity. See Premises Liability Claims Against the Government for more details.

Sovereign Immunity: Its Origins and Modern Implications

Sovereign immunity is rooted in the concept that the government or its divisions (sovereign entities) cannot be sued without their consent. Originally deriving from English common law, the principle was based on the idea that "the king can do no wrong."

In modern times, sovereign immunity applies to:

  • Federal entities
  • State entities
  • Local entities
  • Certain government employees

But, thanks to the FTCA, these entities can sometimes be liable for actions that cause injury or property damage.

The Notice of Claim

If you are involved in an accident involving a government agency or employee, you should file a notice of claim as soon as possible. Do this regardless of whether the government's fault is clear at the time.

Some examples of such accidents include:

  • Being hit by a city bus
  • Being injured after tripping on protruding concrete on a public sidewalk
  • Getting sick after using a drinking fountain in a public park

The claims process differs from state to state. Generally, the purpose of filing a notice of claim is:

  • To make the government aware that you suffered an injury
  • To give the agency or entity a chance to respond to your contentions

Your claim will either be accepted (which is rare) or denied (most common). If your claim is denied, you are free to file a lawsuit and attempt to hold the government liable through civil court. It may help to think of the notice of claim filing rule as a prerequisite to any formal civil lawsuit that can later be filed against the government.

For specific information about the requirements for filing a government-related injury claim in your city or state, call or write to the government agency involved in the incident.

If you are unsure which branch of government may be responsible (i.e., city, county, or state), it is always best to err on the side of caution and submit a claim to each agency that may be at fault (to any extent) for causing your injuries.

Gray Area: Government-Affiliated Organizations

Knowing when the government is involved in an accident or injury is not always clear in every personal injury claim. For example, suppose you are involved in a car accident with a vehicle driven by an employee of an organization that is not an official state agency. But, the organization is partly funded by the state of California and operates in an office building owned by the state.

After the accident, whether you are required to adhere to the California Tort Claims Act in pursuing a claim for your injuries will depend on whether the organization is an arm of the state for purposes of immunity to liability.

As mentioned above, it is always best to err on the side of caution and submit a notice of claim to any government branch or government-affiliated organization that may be at fault in your case.

Special Considerations in Auto Accidents Involving Government Vehicles

Car crashes involving government vehicles present unique challenges. When a motor vehicle accident involves a government employee, the process for seeking compensation differs from a typical auto accident. This process applies to accidents involving:

  • Mail carriers
  • Police officers
  • City bus drivers

In these cases, you must follow specific rules and deadlines outlined by the FTCA or similar state law.

You'll need to file a notice of tort claim with the appropriate government agency within a time frame that is often much shorter than the standard statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

Failure to adhere to these timelines can result in forfeiture of your right to seek compensation. Be aware that this process applies to a wide range of government vehicles:

  • Municipality cars
  • Garbage trucks
  • School buses
  • State-owned maintenance trucks

Medical Malpractice and Government Employees

Medical malpractice cases involving federal employees or incidents occurring in government buildings are another area where special rules apply. The FTCA provides a pathway for people to file medical malpractice claims against federal entities. But, these cases often require a different standard of proof and follow different procedures than typical medical malpractice suits.

When pursuing a claim of medical malpractice against a federal employee, the plaintiff must show that:

  • The employee acted negligently within the scope of their employment
  • This negligence led to their injury

Standard of Care and Negligence

You must show that the health care provider failed to meet the accepted standard of care in the field of medicine. This involves demonstrating that the health care provider's actions (or failure to act) fell below what a reasonably competent and skilled medical professional would have done under similar circumstances.


Additionally, you must prove that this breach of duty caused your injury or harm. Demonstrating that the provider made a mistake isn't enough. You must also show a direct link between the negligence and your injury or worsening condition.

This could require expert medical testimony to confirm the connection between the negligence and the injury.

The FTCA Process

Medical malpractice claims against federal employees or at federal facilities must be made under the FTCA using these steps:

  1. Administrative Claim: First, you must file an administrative claim with the federal agency that employs the medical professional or operates the medical facility. This claim should detail the exact nature of the claim, the acts of negligence you allege, and a calculation of the damages you're claiming.
  2. Six-Month Wait: After filing your claim, you must wait for the agency to approve or deny it, which can take up to six months. If the agency does not respond within this time frame, you can proceed as though your claim was denied.
  3. Filing a Lawsuit: If your claim is denied or the agency does not respond in six months, you can file a lawsuit in federal court. It's important to note that you only have six months from the date of denial to file a lawsuit. If you miss this window, you may lose your right to pursue the claim further.

Dealing With Property Damage and Personal Injuries on Government Property

Accidents causing personal injuries or property damage on government property also require a unique approach. Whether you suffered a slip-and-fall accident in a government building or encountered harm in a public park, the procedures you'll need to follow are determined by the government entity that controls the property.

To seek compensation, you must submit a formal notice of claim to the appropriate government agency. This notice informs the agency about the incident and your intent to seek damages. Meet any deadlines for filing such a notice because failure to do so can bar you from later filing a lawsuit.

Wrongful Death and Claims for Pain and Suffering

In the unfortunate event that a loved one has died due to the actions of a government employee or on government property, you may have grounds to pursue a wrongful death claim with the help of an accident attorney. Similarly, you may be entitled to compensation if you've endured significant pain and suffering due to a government entity's negligence.

In these claims, you could potentially recover damages for:

  • Loss of companionship
  • Emotional distress

Punitive damages, which are designed to punish the wrongdoer, are not available under the FTCA. You can only recover actual damages. Actual damages compensate you for quantifiable losses, not punishment for the wrongdoer's actions.

Filing a Personal Injury Case Against the Government? Get Legal Advice From a Personal Injury Attorney First

The complexity of bringing a personal injury lawsuit against governmental entities (including the need to comply with special rules in filing a notice of claim for injury) makes the help of an experienced attorney a valuable asset in any accident or injury case in which a government entity may be at fault.

You don't have to handle the legal process of government immunity alone. Contact a personal injury lawyer with experience in these types of claims for a free case evaluation.

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