State Sovereign Immunity and Personal Injury Lawsuits
When can you sue the government (and when can you not)?
The doctrine of sovereign immunity varies from state-to-state, but could impact your personal injury lawsuit.
The term “sovereign immunity” sounds like something that might be uttered during a conversation between a high-ranking government official and a foreign leader. But in reality, sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that could impact your personal injury claim.
Let’s take a closer look at sovereign immunity and how it may impact your lawsuit.
What is sovereign immunity?
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that prevents a state government from being sued without its consent.
Sovereign immunity might prohibit you from suing the government.
Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the “state government” includes local governments, municipalities, political subdivisions, and their employees.
For example, if a state employee causes a car accident while on the job, the doctrine of sovereign immunity could prevent any injured parties from suing the state employee.
The idea behind sovereign immunity is that governments wouldn’t be able to function if they faced potential liability for all the actions of their employees. Of course, critics of sovereign immunity argue that the doctrine prevents injured people from recovering damages.
Today, sovereign immunity has been scaled back considerably and only applies in a handful of situations.
When does sovereign immunity apply?
Some states have abolished sovereign immunity altogether. Other states have limited sovereign immunity so that it only applies in certain narrow situations.
Let’s take Florida as an example:Florida Statute 768.28 states that the Florida government can be sued for torts in which the state’s employees injure or kill someone. However, the statute also imposes a number of limitations on the kinds of claims that can be filed.
For example, government employees can’t be held personally liable for harm unless they cause the harm intentionally. What’s more, the statute limits the amount of damages that can be recovered in certain situations. Damages in cases against the state are limited to $200,000 if the lawsuit is against 1 state entity.
In other words, Florida hasn’t completely abolished sovereign immunity, but has instead limited its impact.
Though the doctrine of sovereign immunity varies from state-to-state, there are a couple of situations where most states apply the doctrine of sovereign immunity:
- Planning decisions. In many states, the government isn’t liable for injuries caused by its planning decisions. For example, if a city puts up a stop sign, the city may be immune from suit if you claim that the city’s decision to place the stop sign where it was placed caused your injury.
- Discretionary decisions. In most cases, a claim based on an act or omission of a government employee that exercised due care in executing a statute or regulation isn’t liable for your personal injuries.
What about premises liability?
In premises liability cases, many states provide government immunity or limit liability for defects. To do this, some states lower the standard of care owed to people on government property. Other states create different standards of care depending on the type of defect.
What does this mean for your accident lawsuit?
It’s rarely easy to determine whether or not sovereign immunity applies to a particular situation.
What’s more, even if sovereign immunity doesn’t apply and you can sue, there are certain hoops that you must jump through when suing the government. For example, most states require that you submit a notice before filing a lawsuit. The failure to do so could prevent you from recovering any damages.
In addition, the statute of limitations is often shorter when suing the government compared to suing another citizen or company.
To put it simply, if you’re thinking about suing the government, it’s highly recommended that you meet with an experienced attorney.