There are special rules to follow if your accident might have been even partially caused by a government entity or its employee -- the city, county, state, or federal government or any public agency or division. This would include, for example, an accident with a municipal bus or a car driven by a local, state, or federal employee during work time; an injury suffered because of the dangerous condition of a building or other property owned or operated by a government agency; or an accident caused by an employee of a government agency during the course of official work.
In general, goverment defendants -- the city, the county, the Federal government -- get to set their own rules for who can sue them, for what, and how. To pursue a claim against a government entity, you must carefully follow your state’s specific rules for such claims. In particular, you must file a formal written claim against the government entity responsible for your injury within a relatively short time after your accident -- usually 30 to 180 days. If you fail to file a claim within the time limit, or fail to include required information, you may forever lose your right to collect compensation against that party.
If you believe that a government entity was in any way at fault for your injuries, file a claim against it. So, for example, if you are in a three-vehicle accident involving you, another car, and a city bus, file a claim against the city even if you believe the other car was primarily at fault. It may turn out that the other driver was uninsured. Or the bus was more at fault than you first realized, and the driver of the other car will be only partially responsible. In either case, you would have to look to the city for compensation -- and if you have not filed a formal claim in time, you will not be allowed to seek damages against it.
Each state has its own time limits within which you have to file a formal claim against a government entity. Some limits are as short as 30 days after the accident, although most are six months. If you have been in an accident that may involve government liability, check your state’s time limit so that you are sure to file your claim on time.
No matter what time limit you are up against, do not wait until the last minute to file your claim. You might have forgotten to include something, or you might have picked the wrong government entity -- and you may have trouble correcting the error before the time runs out.
For some time after an accident, you may not -realize that a government entity was to blame. And by the time you do realize it, the time period within which to file a formal claim may have passed. If so, it does not necessarily end your chances of collecting compensation from the government, although it does make the task much harder. Most states permit you to file a late claim if you can show good reason for the delay.
What is legally required to establish a good reason, however, can vary greatly from state to state. In some states, it means that you were not aware the government entity was responsible. In others, you must show that you actually investigated who was responsible but you received incorrect information or otherwise made an excusable error.
No matter what your reason, if you missed the deadline, file your claim anyway, along with an explanation of why it is late. The government entity may still grant you permission to file the claim. If it does not, in most states you can then go to court to ask per-mission to file a late claim. For that process, though, it is best that you seek the assistance of a personal injury lawyer.
For more information on claims stemming from accidents that involved the city, county, municipality, or other such entity, see our section on Injury Claims Against Government Entities.
For more tips on filing every kind of injury claim -- including claims against the government -- and everything you’ll need to navigate your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.