Can You Sue The Government For Negligence? It Depends

Posted on Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 at 5:11 pm    

You slip and fall while walking down the steps at City Hall in Philadelphia. Or perhaps you are a passenger on a SEPTA bus and are injured in a motor vehicle accident.  Or maybe you are just walking in Center City and you hurt yourself due an uncovered hole in the sidewalk or other sidewalk defect. These scenarios play out every day across Philadelphia and Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks County. So what can you do if the government’s negligence caused or contributed to your injury and resulting pain and suffering? The answer is it depends on the type of entity involved, the type of injury you sustained, and the cause of your injury.

The First Step Is Identifying Whether The Entity or Agency Involved Is Considered A State Or Local Agency

Both local and state agencies are immune from certain kinds of lawsuits alleging personal injuries. However, the immunity afforded to state agencies is somewhat different from the immunity granted to local agencies. Therefore, the first step is always determining what type of agency or entity was negligent in causing your injuries.

The statute granting immunity from certain claims to the state and state agencies does not provide a comprehensive definition of what constitutes a commonwealth agency. However, the courts have held that the determination of whether an entity is a state or local agency focuses on the enabling legislation. For instance, although SEPTA only operates locally, SEPTA has been held to be a state agency for immunity purposes so that injuries resulting from SEPTA bus accidents must pass muster under the statute granting state agencies immunity. Additionally, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has been deemed to be a state agency for immunity purposes, as has the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

In contrast, most local agencies, as well as municipalities, enjoy only the immunity afforded under the law granting immunity to municipalities and local government agencies. The differences will be discussed below.

So What Can you Sue The State Or A State Agency For?

If you suffer an injury as a result of the negligence of the state or a state agency, you may sue if the injury was caused by:

  1. The operation of a motor vehicle
  2. Medical professional liability
  3. The care, custody or control of personal property
  4. A dangerous condition of Commonwealth real estate, highways and sidewalks
  5. A dangerous condition of Commonwealth highways due to potholes, sinkholes or other similar conditions provided the agency had actual notice of the defect prior to the injury
  6. The care, custody or control of animals
  7. Liquor store sales
  8. National guard activities
  9. Toxoids and vaccines

The state or state agency may only be held responsible for up to $250,000 in damages caused by its negligence under the law.

So What Can You Sue A Municipality Or Local Agency For?

If you suffer injuries as a result of the negligence of a municipality or local agency, you may sue if the injury was caused by:

  1. The operation of a motor vehicle
  2. The care, custody or control of personal property
  3. The care, custody or control of real property, which does not include sidewalks, trees, streets or traffic signs
  4. A dangerous condition of trees, traffic signs, and street lighting provided the local agency had actual or constructive notice of the defect prior to the injury
  5. Utility service facilities
  6. A dangerous condition of streets owned by the local agency, provided actual or constructive notice is proven
  7. A dangerous condition of sidewalks provided actual or constructive notice is proven
  8. The care, custody or control of animals

The municipality or local agency may only be held responsible for up to $500,000 in damages resulting from its negligent acts under the law. Additionally, you may only recover for pain and suffering for permanent loss of bodily function, permanent disfigurement or permanent dismemberment where medical expenses exceed $1,500. In other words, municipalities and local agencies will not be forced to pay for pain and suffering where the injury itself is minor and does not have a permanent impact.

An Injured Person Must Submit A Notice Of Claim Within Six Months Of The Injury

Under both the local and state immunity statute, a person injured by the negligence of the state or local agency must provide notice of his/her intention to make a claim within six months of the accident, or the individual will be barred from suing the state or local agency afterwards. Therefore, it is extremely important that you consult with an attorney immediately if you have been injured as a result of the negligence of a state or local agency.

The attorneys at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC have handled hundreds of cases against state and local agencies such as SEPTA, the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of the negligence of another party, contact us today or call (215) 875-7030 for a free consultation. We are here to help!

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Philadelphia, PA 19109
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