When Is The Government Immune From a Premises Liability Suit?

Can you sue the city for a slip and fall injury on city property? What if you are hit by a county bus? In some cases, the government may be protected from injury liability lawsuits.

If you are injured on someone else's property, you can be compensated by the person or entity that owns the property. For example, if you slip and fall on a wet liquid in a restaurant, you can sue the restaurant to recover money for your injuries, under a legal theory known as premises liability. But when the government owns the property, the legal process is more complicated. Read on to learn more about how premises liability cases work when the government is liable for your injury.

Premises Liability in General

Under the legal theory of premises liability, a business owner or other property owner can be held liable for injuries occurring on their property. Similar to a negligence claim, you must prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Duty. You must show that the business owner or other property owner owed a duty to people on their property. There is a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises safe and eliminating dangerous conditions, but the duty often varies based on the status of the person visiting the property.

Breach. When someone does not exercise the proper amount of reasonable care under the circumstances, there is a breach.

Causation. You must prove that the property owner's action or inaction caused your injuries. It must be foreseeable that your injury would result from the property owner’s breach of its duty to exercise reasonable care. For example, if the restaurant employees failed to clean up spilled coffee and you slipped on it, it would foreseeable that the failure to clean up spilled liquid would cause an injury to a customer.

Damages. Simply put, if you have been injured, then you have suffered damages, which means harm and losses stemming from the incident. These include medical bills, time missed at work, pain and suffering, and a number of other compensable damages.

The Government May be Immune from Premises Liability Claims

The government can be sued when you are injured on government property. However, whenever you have an injury claim against the government, you must be aware of strict time limitations and other government-specific legal procedures.

Time limitations vary from state to state. Most states require that an injury claim against the government be made within 30 days to a year after the accident. Claims against the government also require that you provide notice of your claim to the government. After you provide notice, the government body is given a period of time, typically 90 to 120 days, to investigate the claim. After the notice of claim period expires, you can file a lawsuit against the government.

Even if you follow all the initial steps when suing a government body, the government may be immune from your premises liability claim, including where planning decisions and discretionary decisions are concerned.

Planning Decisions. Under many state laws, the government is not liable for injuries caused by its planning decisions. For example, suppose that the city builds a new set of stairs in its city hall building. The steps are very narrow and you fall on the stairs. Under state law, the city may be immune from suit if you claim that the city’s decision to build narrow steps caused your injury. However, suppose instead that a city worker did not use the correct material on the stairs and they collapsed and caused your broken arm. In this situation, the government should not be immune from suit.

Discretionary Decisions. There is an exception to government liability for discretionary acts. Any claim based on an act or omission of a government employee that exercised due care in executing a statute or regulation is not liable for your personal injuries. Furthermore, the government is not liable for claims based on the performance of a discretionary function or duty of a federal agency or federal employee. It does not matter if that discretion was abused. However, where a government employee acts with malice or improper purpose, there will be no immunity.

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