Situations can arise where you might have to sue your local city, or the State, or even the Federal government, to secure your legal rights.
Why Would You Sue Your Own Government?
Consider this: You are walking around downtown. The sidewalk is badly in need of repairs, and it is breaking apart. The City is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. You trip on an uneven area of broken pieces, fall to the pavement, and painfully twist your knee. In this example, when you tripped and fell because of a crumbling sidewalk, you have an injury claim against your local city for failing to properly maintain the sidewalk. However, making the city pay you money is not so clear-cut.
There is an ancient legal theory called “Sovereign Immunity.” This principle is based on the old idea that the King can do no wrong. In our modern world, this means that the government (the modern “King”) cannot be sued unless it agrees to let you proceed. You can only bring certain specific claims against the government. It also means that you need to follow all of their required administrative procedures or else you will lose your lawsuit.
Suing Your Local Town
Our clients’ most common claim against their local government is for defective roadways. The definition of a roadway includes sidewalks. Think about all of the pot holes, uneven sidewalks, and roadways under repair in your town, on any given day of the week. If you are injured, or if your property is damaged because of a highway defect, you must file written notice with your local Town Clerk or City Clerk within 90 days of the accident. The local government should contact you to resolve the situation. If your claim doesn’t resolve, you have up to two years to file a lawsuit to recover your damages.
Suing the State
Our clients tend to sue the state for two reasons:
- When a highway defect causes a motor vehicle accident.
- When a state employee makes a mistake that causes harm.
There are two separate procedures for each of these lawsuits. Both situations involve navigating highly complicated administrative procedures. In each instance, we strongly recommend that you hire an experienced lawyer to assist you.
If you sustained personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by a highway defect on a state highway then your claim is against the State. For example, if you were involved in a motor vehicle collision caused because of a large pot hole on Interstate 95, then you would have a highway defect claim. You must file written notice with the Commissioner of the State’s Department of Transportation within 90 days of the collision. The State may elect to settle with you. If the case doesn’t settle, then you must file your lawsuit within two years of the collision. These cases are difficult because the law requires that the highway defect be the only cause of the accident.
Another situation where you might sue the State is when a state employee made a mistake that causes you harm. For example, if an employee from the Department of Children & Families improperly removed your child from your home, you would have a potential claim against the State. In this situation, you must file a written claim with the State’s Claims Commissioner within one year of the date of harm. The Commissioner can settle your case (damages under $20,000), dismiss your claim if it is without cause, recommend that the State Legislature pay your claim (damages over $20,000), or authorize you to file a lawsuit directly against the State.
Suing the Federal Government
You’re thinking: Why would I ever need to sue the Federal Government? It’s a good question, but when you think it through, there could be plenty of situations where you might have to sue the Good ‘Ole USA.
Consider this situation: Your car is rear-ended by a Postman driving a U.S. Mail Truck on its postal mail delivery route. Your neck is injured in the collision. This isn’t a normal injury case where you can submit your damages to the other driver’s insurance carrier. The other driver was an employee of the U.S. Postal Service and was delivering U.S. Mail. Your injury claim is against the Feds.
How Do You Sue the U.S. Government?
First, you must file written notice of your accident and injuries under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). This federal law allows anyone to bring a claim against the federal government for the mistakes made by government employees while they were on the job. So, in our example above, when you were rear-ended during the mail delivery, the mail carrier committed a mistake (following too closely) that injured you while they were delivering mail. You have a valid claim under the FTCA. You will need to submit the written claim form to the responsible federal agency. You must make your claim within two years of your accident. If you miss this deadline, your claim is denied forever.
The government will administratively review your written claim. The government can either settle with you, or it can deny your claim. If your injury is severe, the U.S. Attorneys will handle the negotiations for the government. If your claim is denied administratively, or if you don’t like the settlement offer, or if six months passes without a decision either way, then you have the right to sue in federal court.
In Connecticut, most claims against the federal government involve the Postal Service, the Veterans’ Administration Hospitals, or the U.S. Navy (because of the submarine base in Groton). These are the three agencies that are most-active throughout our state.
Any lawsuits against the local, state, or federal governments are extremely complicated matters. If you miss any of the required filings along the way, your case will be denied. The process is confusing and tricky, and it really requires legal know-how for success. We strongly recommend that you seek legal counsel from experienced attorneys. Contact us at Ruane Attorneys at (203) 925-9200. We are here to help!