You Can Sue City Hall
Not so long ago, you really couldn't sue city hall or almost any government agency. An old legal doctrine called sovereign immunity freed governments from most lawsuits unless they consented to be sued.
However, times have changed. Today, if you are hurt or injured and the government is at fault, you can sue them for damages. Perhaps you were injured through the negligence of a government worker. Perhaps you were injured because of a poorly designed or maintained government building. The decline of sovereign immunity has opened up the door to personal injury lawsuits, premises liability lawsuits, and other lawsuits against government entities.
Government-Caused Accidents and Injuries
Our daily lives intersect with many different government agencies. These range from huge federal departments to your local park district or school system. Governments maintain offices and facilities that we visit every day. They employ millions of people who drive hundreds of thousands of official cars and trucks. Add this all together - along with an inevitable dose of human fallibility - and you're sure to get actions or failures that result in accidents and injuries. The result can be injured people and damaged property.
When governments are responsible for your accidents and injuries, you can normally sue them just as you would sue another person or company. This can include personal injury lawsuits for auto accidents and premises liability lawsuits for slip and fall injuries. It can also include lawsuits over other injuries for which there are legal remedies. A wrongfully terminated or harassed employee can file an employment lawsuit against his or her government employer. Parents and students can sue school districts for failing to provide educational services or violating students' rights. People can also sue police agencies for violating their civil rights. There are more examples out there.
What to Do If You're Injured
If you slip and fall on a badly maintained staircase at a government building, or if a garbage truck wipes out your hedge, or if your car is sideswiped by a school bus, there is some good news. You can normally seek to recover compensation from those responsible. The federal government and most states have laws that authorize liability suits for a wide range of negligent conduct.
As in any instance when you're injured and believe you might have legal recourse, your first step should be to consult an attorney. You will be asked to give a detailed description of the accident and injury. Explain what happened, and provide as much information as possible about the incident. Provide the names of any witnesses, medical reports, estimates of damages, and any other helpful information. It's also important that you see your lawyer as soon as possible. You may not have as much time to file a lawsuit against the government as you would against a private business.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
There are some differences between suing the government and suing a private party. You may have to take some extra steps. Many states require people to file an administrative claim with a government agency before they can file a civil case in court. If that claim is denied, then you can file a civil case against the government. There is often a limited period of time in which to file the claim and the lawsuit.
You may also encounter some obstacles depending on the type of case. Many laws cap the amount of damages that you can potentially recover from the government. Certain types of lawsuits - such as medical malpractice lawsuits against a government hospital or personal injury lawsuits against legislators acting in an official capacity - may be precluded as well. An attorney should be able to guide you through these and similar obstacles.
However, the most common kinds of suits - such as auto collisions - will be permitted. As will suits for certain kinds of negligence (not maintaining a lighthouse, improperly designing a road) that are uniquely governmental in nature. All this means that the old days when "the King could do no wrong" are over, and you probably have a right to a day in court.