If you have suffered a personal injury and you believe that the government is responsible for it, you need to know what to do. The government refers to any government or public agency which is a federal, state, or local government office or agency which serves the public. Different rules apply when suing the federal government , than when suing other governmental agencies such as cities, counties, states, or even transit districts or authorities.
Unfortunately it isn’t easy to sue the government. Government agencies are covered under the principle of governmental immunity or sovereign immunity . These both mean the same thing-that a government agency or employee of a public office may not be liable for their actions or lack of actions, even though a private agency or employee would be held liable under the same circumstances. This doctrine is used at all levels of government: local, state, and federal.
Even though there is the principle of governmental immunity, The Federal Tort Claims Act waives the immunity the government or employees may have if federal employees cause damage due to their actions. State and local governments often follow this principle as well.
What this means for you is you may not be able to sue the government, and if you are able to sue the government you may have a higher standard of proof for a governmental employee or agency than you would with a private citizen or company.
An example would be when a police vehicle, fire engine, or ambulance is responding to an emergency. These governmental bodies are given greater leeway in order to react to an emergency. If they cause an accident in which you are injured while performing these duties they may be difficult to sue unless they weren’t using their lights and sirens properly so that they could respond to the emergency and still protect the safety of the general public at the same time.
Before suing the government, you must first file a claim for damages with them. You can do this if you feel the public agency is responsible for causing your injury, damage or loss.
How to File Your Claim
- Get the agency’s damages claim form.
- Fill out and return the claim form to the agency as soon as possible. Use Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested to prove that you delivered the claim form to the agency and that the agency received it. You may also turn the claim form in personally, but be sure to get a signed receipt for it.
After filing your claim, the government office will send you a form or letter letting you know whether your claim has been approved or denied.
If your claim has been approved, you will be paid your damages and the matter is settled. You don’t need to do anything else.
If your claim has been denied, you may decide to go to Small Claims Court. You must file your case with Small Claims Court within 6 months of your claim being denied.
If the public agency doesn’t respond to your damages claim in 45 days, your claim is then considered to be denied. In this case, however, you have to file your Small Claims Court case within 2 years of the date that you filed your original claim with the agency.
Suing the Government in Small Claims Court
- Fill out a Plaintiff’s Claim.
- File you Plaintiff’s Claim in the correct Small Claims Court location and pay the filing fee. When filing remember to bring a copy of your original denial from the government agency. If the agency didn’t respond to your claim, bring a copy of your original claim form and Certified Mail receipt for proof that you sent the agency the claim.
- Upon filing, you will be given a court date and you must have a copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim served to the agency
Suing the Federal Government
If you are suing the federal government for an injury you received from it, you cannot sue the federal government in Small Claims Court. However, you may file a Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death with the federal government.
Follow the same steps above under How to File Your Claim . If your federal damage claim is denied, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for help with filing your case in the U.S. District Court.
If you have suffered a personal injury and/or you need help suing the government when it is responsible for an injury, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who will explain all your alternatives and will make certain that you resolve your personal injury claim in the best and timeliest manner possible.