Can I sue a state or local government entity?
Just like anyone else, employees of government agencies at all levels can cause injury to members of the public in the course of doing their jobs. From a car accident, a slip and fall on government owned or controlled property, excessive force by police or government officers, to medical malpractice at a veteran’s facility, government employees can cause injury and mayhem to others, and their agency be held responsible.
Up until recently, federal, state and local governments and their employees had either total, or some level (qualified or limited), of immunity from suit if they committed a negligent act resulting in an injury to a person or property. This concept dated back to the King and Queen of England and other royalty, who could not be sued for wrongs committed. However, as time has passed, this immunity has largely been abolished in total or to some degree at all levels of government in the United States, and the ways of our once British rulers has vanished.
Under what are known Federal, State or Local Tort Claims Act (s), you have the right to sue a government entity and/or its employees, whose negligence or recklessness resulted in an injury. These types of personal injury claims are more difficult to pursue, can be highly complex, and in general, the amount of damages one can recover is capped by law.
When pursuing a personal injury claim against the federal, state or local government, make sure you know the specific rules that apply, particularly as to the time in which you must provide notification of the government entity responsible for your injury and what information must be given. There are different deadlines and rules for each county, state, etcetera, and one who does not comply with all the terms including time, may lose their claim.
How to sue a state or local government
Injury claims caused by federal employees are made under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). This covers anything from any type of personal injury, and includes wrongful death and property damage claims due to government negligence. The FTCA was created to allow individuals to sue the United States Government for money damages arising out of instances in which government employees, in the scope of their employment or official capacity, are negligent and cause harm to others.
Incidents that give rise to an FTCA claim are as varied as those brought in the private sector and can include:
- Automobile Accidents
- Medical Malpractice
- Slip and Fall on Government Property
- Veterans Administration or VA Hospital Claims
- Claims Against the Military
- Constitutional Right Or Violations of Civil Rights
- Claims Against the FBI
However, the FTCA bars lawsuits against the government in many circumstances as well. For example, it prohibits suits for injuries arising out of libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights. It also prohibits suits for injuries arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, or abuse of process committed by a federal government employee who is not an investigative or law-enforcement officer. Finally, it prohibits suits by U.S. service personnel for injuries arising out of or in the course of activity related to military service. And it prohibits suits for injuries arising out of governmental decisions involving economic, political, or social policy (discretionary actions).
Notifying the Federal Government and Going to Court:
The FTCA requires that, before filing a lawsuit, you must submit a written claim (form) to the federal agency whose employee caused the injury. The claim must be filed with the agency within two years of the date of your injury; or if it is not obvious when or how you were injured, your claim must be filed within two years after you discover or with reasonable diligence should have discovered your injury and its cause. If the agency denies your claim, a lawsuit must be filed within six months after the denial.
In addition, certain other procedures must be followed, such as serving a copy of the lawsuit on the appropriate United States Attorney and the Attorney General. In addition, Federal Tort Claims filed in court are decided by a federal judge, and not by a jury.
Suits against the state of Maryland, the district and Virginia
In Maryland, The Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) allows you to sue a state agency if the agency, or one of its employees, caused your injury. See, Maryland Code, State Government Article, §§ 12-101, et. seq. Under the Maryland Act an injured party or their representative must provide notice to the State within 6 months of the incident, and provide specific information, including:
- (a) Form. -- A claim under this subtitle shall:
- (1) contain a concise statement of facts that sets forth the nature of the claim, including the date and place of the alleged tort;
- (2) demand specific damages;
- (3) state the name and address of each party;
- (4) state the name, address, and telephone number of counsel for the claimant, if any; and
- (5) be signed by the claimant, or the legal representative or counsel for the claimant.
- (d) Final denials. -- A claim under this subtitle is denied finally:
- (1) if, by certified mail, return receipt requested, under a postmark of the United States Postal Service, the Treasurer or designee sends the claimant, or the legal representative or counsel for the claimant written notice of denial; or
- (2) if the Treasurer or designee fails to give notice of a final decision within 6 months after the filing of the claim.
You must be aware that a state agency is not required to pay more than $400,000 in damages from one incident under the MTCA.
Suing a Local Government e.g. such as Montgomery County; Section 5-301 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article
Under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA) for Maryland, you can sue an employee of a county, city, or other local government agency for negligence. In order for the municipal agency to pay for the damages caused by an employee, the employee must have caused injury while within the scope of his or her employment.
A local government agency will not pay for the damages if your injury was caused by gross negligence or malicious behavior by the employee.
Timing and Notice:
You must mail, deliver, or fax a claim letter to the appropriate agency highlighting the negligent or reckless actions that led to your injury as a requirement to bringing a lawsuit.
§ 5-304. Notice of claim; Form and contents of notice:
- (b)(1) Except as provided in subsections (a) and (d) of this section, an action for unliquidated damages may not be brought against a local government or its employees unless the notice of the claim required by this section is given within 1 year after the injury.
- (2) The notice shall be in writing and shall state the time, place, and cause of the injury.
Notice given in person or by certified mail
- (c)(1) The notice required under this section shall be given in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested, bearing a postmark from the United States Postal Service, by the claimant or the representative of the claimant.
- (2) Except as otherwise provided, if the defendant local government is a county, the notice required under this section shall be given to the county commissioners or county council of the defendant local government.
- (3) If the defendant local government is:
- (i) Baltimore City, the notice shall be given to the City Solicitor;
- (ii) Howard County or Montgomery County, the notice shall be given to the County Executive and/or the Head of the Agency involved; and
- (iii) Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Frederick County, Harford County, or Prince George's County, the notice shall be given to the county solicitor or county attorney.
- (4) For any other local government, the notice shall be given to the corporate authorities of the defendant local government.
Unlike the State, notice must be given within 1 year after injury, unless:
- (e) This section does not apply if, within 1 year after the injury, the defendant local government has actual or constructive notice of:
- (1) The claimant's injury; or
- (2) The defect or circumstances giving rise to the claimant's injury.
Failure to give notice
- (d) Notwithstanding the other provisions of this section, unless the defendant can affirmatively show that its defense has been prejudiced by lack of required notice, upon motion and for good cause shown the court may entertain the suit even though the required notice was not given.
Under LGTCA, a local or county agency cannot be held liable to any one person for more than $400,000, or in total for more than $800,000 for all injuries arising from a single incident.
Suits against the District of Columbia or Virginia
Like the agencies discussed above, the District and Virginia, have similar requirements and deadlines. Make sure you contact an attorney who knows these requirements for making claims against them if you are injured by an agency or employee while he/she is performing an activity in furtherance of his/her employment with the government involved.
How can a Rockville personal injury lawyer help me pursue a claim?
Pursuing a personal injury claim against a government agency can be very difficult. Before pursuing a personal injury claim against a state or local agency, it's critical that you first consult with a Maryland attorney at the Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC.
Our attorneys have a vast amount of knowledge of the Maryland legal system and experience handling cases like yours. To find out how we can help you, fill out our online contact form or call our Rockville office at (301) 251-1286.