When Can You Sue the Government for a Personal Injury?

Claims for injuries against a government are very different from personal injury claims involving two private parties.  If you suffer an injury because of government or government employee action or inaction, whether you can sue the government depends entirely on the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury or accident — including which government may be responsible.

Virginia Government BuildingThe Legal Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

The doctrine of sovereign immunity protects government entities, officials, and employees from civil liability for wrongful acts.  Generally, sovereign immunity provides protection from tort liability.  A tort is a civil act or omission that causes injury to another person.  A personal injury claim is a type of tort action.

While immunity exists for governments under the principle of sovereign immunity, the federal government and state government in Virginia both waive that immunity to a limited extent in specific statutes.  Those statutes permit injured individuals to make claims for personal injuries in some circumstances.

Claims Against the U.S. Government / Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a federal statute that provides a legal process for an injured person to make a claim against the United States government for negligent or wrongful acts of a government employee.  A claimant must follow the conditions and procedures in the law in making the claim.

The FTCA includes specific notice requirements for submitting the claim, an administrative process for handling the claim, and time limitations for initiating the claim and filing a lawsuit.  If an injured person makes a claim but does not abide by the notice requirements or time limits, the claim or case likely will not succeed.

Common reasons for claims under the FTCA include injuries suffered in an auto accident involving a vehicle driven by a federal government employee and injuries received in a federal government building (such a slip and fall).  If you have significant injuries that may qualify as a FTCA claim, you should discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your accident.

Virginia Tort Claims Act

Sovereign immunity law in Virginia is extremely complex — and always evolving. Virginia Supreme Court decisions and numerous statutes adopted by the legislature establish a myriad of rules and conditions that apply. Whether sovereign immunity applies to a potential personal injury claim against the Commonwealth depends entirely on the specific circumstances of the accident. 

Virginia local governments are not subject to the provisions of the Virginia Tort Claims Act, which applies only to the Commonwealth and state transportation districts.

Claims Against Virginia Local Governments

Legal rules and sovereign immunity issues for Virginia local governments are even more complex than those that apply to claims against the Commonwealth.  Court decisions and various specific state laws address the level of immunity for local governments and their officials.  There is no single state law determines liability of local governments.

However, there is a statute relating to notice requirements and the statute of limitations for actions against Virginia local governments.  That law requires that the injured person provide notice of a negligence claim against a county, city, or town within six months of the injury or accident.  Failure to provide the required notice bars an action.  In other words, the statute of limitations on a local government claim is only six months, rather than the two-year limitation that applies to private personal injury actions.

Counties have more protection from liability than cities and towns.  For municipalities (cities and towns), the Virginia Supreme Court distinguishes between governmental and proprietary functions in determining whether sovereign immunity applies.

Generally, municipalities have immunity from liability for negligence in governmental functions but not in proprietary functions.  Governmental functions are those carried out for the public good or welfare — such as responding to emergencies, operating police and fire departments, and constructing streets and sidewalks.  In contrast, proprietary functions primarily benefit the municipality rather than the public — like operating utilities and airports and owning and leasing property.

In many instances, individual Virginia statutes modify the general application of sovereign immunity rules in specific circumstances.  The only way to know if you have a potential personal injury claim against a Virginia local government is to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Talk With An Experienced Virginia Beach Personal Injury Attorney About Whether You Can Sue the Government for Your Injuries

If you suffer serious injuries and a government agency or employee may be responsible, you should discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident.  Strict notice requirements and time limits apply to government claims.

Whether the law allows your claim depends on the circumstances surrounding your accident, including which government (federal, state, or local) may have liability.  Virginia Beach personal injury lawyer Jeff Brooke handles claims against the U.S. government and Virginia local governments.  He will analyze your case under the complex laws and rules that apply.

If you suffered severe, long-term injuries in any type of accident, The Jeff Brooke Team is here to help.  We always focus on your and your family’s interests and rights and aggressively pursue your case to get the full compensation you deserve. Contact us by phone at (757) 785-0837 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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