Can I Sue the Government for an Injury That Occurs on Public Property?

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The rules for liability are fairly clear when the defendant is a private entity, such as a business or landowner. But what if an accident takes place on government property? Injuries can happen in parks, on sidewalks, in government buildings, and in innumerable other public locations. The processes and standards required for holding government entities liable are generally more complicated than for private actors. Having an attorney is therefore vital to preserving your rights and winning the compensation you deserve. The first thing to consider if you’ve been hurt on public property are the basic rules governing premises liability. In any personal injury case, you have to prove four elements to establish a party’s negligence:

Duty – the property owner has a duty to keep the property reasonably safe.

Breach – the property owner failed in that duty. For instance, the owner knew, or should have known, of a hazardous condition and failed to correct it.

Causation – the breach, for example the hazardous condition, caused injury to someone.

Damages – the injury resulted in damages.

Suing the government for negligence is considerably more difficult because of the concept of sovereign immunity. This doctrine limits the ability of injury victims to recover from public entities such as cities and states. In essence, a government body or agency cannot be sued unless it has consented to being sued. That is, immunity must be waived.

Where your injury happened – on federal, state, county, or city property – will determine how sovereign immunity applies. The federal government, for instance, has waived immunity in some situations.

The state of Georgia has also waived immunity in some personal injury cases. This was done by way of the Georgia Tort Claims Act of 1992. The law allows the state to be held liable for certain negligent acts committed by its employees and officers. The employee or officer must be “acting within the scope of their official duties or employment” when the injury occurred.

There are some important limitations that apply to parties suing the state of Georgia. There is a $1,000,000 cap on damages for any one individual seeking recovery. Punitive damages cannot be awarded against the state. Also, in most cases, performance of discretionary functions (where a judgment call is required) will not result in liability. This is different from ministerial duties – where no judgment call on the employee’s or officer’s part is required.

Before suing the state of Georgia, the injured party must give a notice of claim. This notice must be filed within a year of the injury. There are specific requirements for the notice, including its contents and where it must be sent. You should consult a Georgia personal injury attorney to make sure this is done properly.

But what if your accident happened on county or city property? The process is similar to the one used for suing the state. A notice of claim, governed by the one-year time limit described above, is required. There are other processes and rules that must be followed as well.

Lastly, if your injury occurred on city property, be aware of the restrictions that will apply to your case. Georgia does permit personal injury lawsuits against cities and towns in certain circumstances. For example:

  • Municipalities can be held liable for their employees’ “neglect to perform or improper or unskillful performance of their ministerial duties.”
  • Towns and cities may also be held liable for injuries due to defects in sidewalks or on streets. This applies where the municipality was negligent in its obligation to keep these areas reasonably safe.

Mayors, city council members, and town and city officers may be held individually liable in certain cases. As with the state, there is a notice of claim required to sue a city or town. However, it must be filed within six months (not one year) of the injury.

Why You Need a Lawyer to Take on the Government

Suing a private party for personal injury is hard enough. It is much more challenging when the defendant is a government unit. The notice requirements and limitations under sovereign immunity can shield the government, even if it’s clearly responsible for your injuries. Don’t take on the government by yourself if you’ve suffered an accident because of negligence. Call the dedicated and experienced professionals at Schneider Hammers to help with your case.