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Premises Liability Claims Against the Government

One of the most common premises liability situations happens when a defect on a public sidewalk or roadway injures a member of the public. For example, many accidents happen when traffic lights or signs don't function properly, are hidden, or are not there.

Another example of premises liability is when a local government entity performs roadwork involving excavation or obstruction of the roadway, and someone gets injured due to the change in the road's surface or traffic flow.

Another common situation is where someone gets injured when they trip and fall due to a defect in a public sidewalk.

In these cases, it would seem clear that the government responsible for maintaining the road or walkways is legally liable to the injured party.

Traditionally, government bodies have "sovereign immunity." Under this immunity, government bodies can't get sued or be liable in lawsuits.

State and federal governments have reduced this broad sovereign immunity over the years. States have reduced these protections by passing laws. They vary from state to state, but most are modeled on the Federal Tort Claims Act. This federal law waives the government's sovereign immunity under certain circumstances.

Consider reviewing the following resources for more about these issues:

The Federal Tort Claims Act

Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946. Before that time, the federal government could not get sued for:

Today, the FTCA allows people to recover against the federal government for personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage caused by the negligence of a federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.

A person is generally acting within the scope of their employment if:

  1. A competent authority authorized their conduct
  2. They were serving, at least in part, a governmental purpose

If an injured person suffers such injury by the act or omission of an independent contractor hired by the federal government, the government might be liable for the contractor's negligence. But for this to happen, the plaintiff must show:

  • The government had the authority to control the detailed physical performance of the contractor and
  • The government could exercise substantial supervision of that contractor's day-to-day activities

The only award allowed under the FTCA is money damages for a specified amount. But you can't recover pre-judgment interest or punitive damages from the government.

Federal law governs the procedure for pursuing a claim against it under the FTCA. But the state's law where the act or omission happened will determine the government's liability.

Under the FTCA, a person must write their claim within two years after it becomes known. You must submit a written claim to bring a lawsuit against the federal government. Failure to do so likely results in dismissal of the suit.

State Government Immunity Laws

A person wishing to bring a premises liability claim against a state or municipal government must follow the state's government immunity laws. Under these laws, many states limit liability for premises defects. Some do this by establishing a relatively low standard of care owed to those on government property.

Some state immunity laws demand that the government exercise the level of care that a private person would owe a licensee on private property. This contrasts the "ordinary care" standard that most states have adopted for actions between private parties. Some states create different standards of care depending on the type of defect at issue and whether the injured party paid to use the property.

Several states limit government immunity where a case involves a "special defect." A special defect is a premises defect that is more dangerous than most because it presents an unusual and unexpected danger. A special defect is typically a condition that endangers ordinary highway, road, or street users. Even if the government didn't create it, the government must act to prevent injuries.

For example, if a storm knocks a tree into a roadway, the government might be liable for injuries resulting from the tree's presence if:

  • The government knew or
  • In the exercise of reasonable care, should have known about the problem

States have written notice requirements and notice of claim requirements. An injured party must follow these before filing a lawsuit against a government. When to give those notices and what they must contain differs in each state. So, speaking with an attorney about the law in your state is important.

What Can I Do if I'm Injured Due to Dangerous Conditions on Government Property and Have Medical Bills?

If you got injured due to dangerous conditions on government property, you can file an administrative claim against the government entity responsible for the property. If the claim is successful, you could potentially recover damages for your:

  • Medical bills
  • Loss of income
  • Other related costs

But, the process can be complex, so consult with a personal injury attorney.

Can I Sue the Government for a Car Accident Caused by a Defect on a Public Roadway?

Yes, it is possible to sue a governmental entity for car accidents caused by defects on a public roadway. If the government agency responsible for maintaining the road was negligent in its duty, causing the dangerous condition that led to your accident, you may be able to file a claim.

Before you can sue a governmental entity, you must usually file a notice of claim with the agency in question. This informs the agency that you have a grievance and intend to file a lawsuit. Each state has its own rules on the timing and contents of this notice.

Some states cap the money you can recover from a government entity. These caps vary widely and can be pretty low.

Filing a Premises Liability Claim Against the Government? Get Legal Advice From an Attorney

Premises liability actions against government entities involve specific liability rules and procedural requirements. The personal injury claims process can be overwhelming. Get peace of mind today by contacting an experienced premises liability attorney near you.

Remember, there is a statute of limitations on premises liability cases. This means there is a time limit to bring a lawsuit for a fall accident. If you want to sue a government agency, speak to a premises liability lawyer immediately. This will help preserve your right to a personal injury case.

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