Not long ago, you couldn't sue city hall or almost any government agency. The old legal doctrine of sovereign immunity freed governments from most lawsuits unless they consented to be sued. But times have changed.
Today, if you are hurt or injured and the government is at fault, you can sue them for damages. 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
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.
What to Do If You're Injured
You can normally seek to recover compensation when the government is responsible for the injuries. The federal government and most states have laws that authorize liability suits for a wide range of negligent conduct.
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.
Things to Remember When Suing the Government
There are distinctions 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.
Thinking of Suing City Hall or Another Government Entity? See an Attorney
The barriers to being able to sue city hall or government entities have long passed. If you're injured and believe you might have legal recourse, you want to see it through. Your first step should be to consult a personal injury attorney who can help you with your case, including providing a detailed description of the accident and injury.
Learn about state-specific laws on our state, local and municipal litigation legal answers page.