Sovereign immunity is a legal concept that makes suing the government virtually impossible without its consent. The State of Pennsylvania gives “consent” via constitutional amendment or law. Similarly, governmental immunity is an identical theory that provides individuals cannot sue local governments for torts its employees commit unless the entity waives immunity.
However, there are exceptions to these rules, which make suing the government possible. It is important to be familiar with these exceptions in case you are ever the victim of an injury caused by the government or state. Below, we have detailed these exceptions, as well as the steps for filing a claim.
Exceptions to Sovereign and Government Immunity
Pennsylvania Statutes 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 8501, 8541 (the Sovereign Immunity and Political Subdivision Tort Claims Acts, or “Tort Claims Acts”) carve out exceptions to general sovereign and governmental immunity rules. Therefore, if the cause of action (the manner in which you obtained your injury) is not in the Tort Claims Acts, the sovereign or government will be immune from suit. We have included more detailed descriptions of these exceptions below.
Vehicle liability is one of the most commonly used exceptions to general local government immunity rules. Quite simply, if a government agent injures you while he or she is operating a motor vehicle, you may sue the agency for your injury. The motor vehicle involved does not have to be a car — injury resulting from boats, trains, airplanes, and motorcycles all fall under this exception, as long as the motor vehicle is in operation.
For example, if you injure yourself by running into a parked government bus, the exception will not apply because the bus was not in operation by a government agent, and the claim will not be actionable. An agent must be in control of an operating motor vehicle at the time of your injury for the agency to be liable to you.
Medical Professional Liability
State and government health care employees are another popular exception to general immunity. Health care employees are not only licensed physicians, but can be any person who works in the health care field and provides medical services. For example, if you are injured by a state employed nurse while receiving health care, sovereign immunity will not be a defense for the state if you choose to file suit.
Medical professional liability does not apply to local governments.
The government cannot waive immunity for any injuries suffered as a result of “dangerous conditions” on public property, such as roads, sidewalks, and “Commonwealth-owned real property.” Essentially, if you suffer injuries after tripping on a broken sidewalk maintained by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the government cannot waive immunity for your injuries.
For local governments: If another party performs maintenance on the sidewalk, that party is the primary liable party and the government is secondary.
Official immunity (public officers are not liable for injury that results from the official “exerting official authority”) follows the same principles as sovereign and government immunity, and generally does not allow individuals to sue state or local employees to for actions they commit while working in their capacity as an agent of the state. However, if officials waive immunity, individuals may be able to hold them liable for any injuries they cause.
Additional requirements that apply to officials only (and do not apply to the state or government as an agency) are as follows:
- The victim would have the right to recover damages in a typical tort claim;
- The employee’s negligent act was the cause of the injury;
- The official committed a negligent act relating to any of the exceptions outlined above.
Steps for filing a claim against the state or government
As is the case with any lawsuit you file, there are very specific steps that you must address immediately after you suffer an injury to ensure that you do not miss your window of opportunity to receive compensation for your loss. It is best to have a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney guide you through these steps so that you know you have not missed a crucial part of the process.
- Because sovereign and governmental immunity protect governmental entities from lawsuits, you must first find an exception that applies (such as the exceptions outlined above).
- Once you find an exception, you must give notice to the state or government that you intend to file a claim to seek damages. If you are filing against the government, you must file this notice with the right government office. If you are filing suit against the state, you must file your notice with the State Attorney General [42 Pa.C.S. § 5522].
- There is a six-month statute of limitations period — meaning, if you suffer injuries, and do not file a claim within six months, you are no longer able to recover for that injury. (Exceptions to this general rule will allow you to still file suit after the six-month period if you can give the judge a reasonable excuse or if the government had notice of an impending claim).
Do Not Delay — Get Started Today
If you or someone you care about suffered injury due to the actions of a negligent government entity or employee, you may be eligible to file a claim to receive compensation.
Talk to the attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC today, and let us determine if the facts of your case are an exception to the general rules of sovereign, governmental, or official immunity. Contact us today to see if you have a case: 215-642-2335.