Suing the Government in Pennsylvania

Many people wrongly assume that the law prohibits you from suing the government in Pennsylvania if you were injured on public property or by a government worker. This is not completely accurate. While the government does enjoy a measure of immunity from liability for injury victims’ damages, it is not immune in every circumstance. There are many types of cases in which you can seek recovery for your damages from the state or local municipality.

Below, we review some of the basics about the laws regarding government immunity in Pennsylvania, what the restrictions are, and when you are eligible for recovery.

Note, if you are thinking about filing a claim against a government entity, be forewarned that these types of cases are far more challenging to win than normal personal injury claims, and there are very specific protocols you have to follow. If you fail to adhere to all of the special rules and procedures, you will nullify your rights to compensation entirely.

To protect your interests, you will want to enlist in the help of an attorney to move forward with your case. For legal help from an injury attorney that has successfully handled cases against the state of Pennsylvania and local municipalities, call Cordisco & Saile LLC at 215-791-8911.

Is the government immune from personal injury lawsuits?

America adopted and adapted the English concept of “sovereign immunity.” It grew out of the English worldview that “the King can do no wrong.” This legal doctrine shields the government from lawsuits. There are two types of government immunity:

  1. Sovereign immunity, which refers to the immunity provided to the Federal Government and the states
  2. Government immunity, which refers to the immunity provided to local municipalities

Is there a difference between suing the state and suing a municipality?

There are similar, but different laws that pertain to filing a claim against the state as opposed to one against a local municipality.

State –The Sovereign Immunity Act, found in Pennsylvania Code § 8522, provides that the Commonwealth has immunity from lawsuits unless the victim would have normally been able to recover the damages in a non-government case, and one of nine exceptions apply. If your accident involved any of the following nine exceptions, you may be entitled to file a claim against the state.

  1. Vehicle liability, i.e., being involved in an accident with a government worker in state vehicle.
  2. Medical-professional liability, i.e., injuries sustained from workers of commonwealth agency medical facilities
  3. Care, custody, or control of personal property
  4. Commonwealth real estate, highways, and sidewalks, i.e., injuries sustained as a result of dangerous conditions of state property
  5. Dangerous conditions created by road hazards on Commonwealth highways
  6. Care, custody, or control of animals, e.g., getting injured by a police dog or horse
  7. Liquor store sales at Pennsylvania liquor stores by employees of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
  8. National Guard, i.e., injury by Pennsylvania military members
  9. Toxoids and vaccines, i.e., you suffer harm as a result of a defective toxoid or vaccine not manufactured in Pennsylvania

Local – The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act [Pennsylvania Code § 8542] provides immunity to all agencies that are not the Commonwealth, including intermediate units, municipalities, and councils of government. This Act, too, provides exceptions in which injured victims can seek recovery. They are similar to those in the Sovereign Immunity Act. Namely, you can sue if the accident involved:

  1. Operation of a motor vehicle, e.g., city bus or school bus accident
  2. The care, custody, or control of personal property
  3. The care, custody, or control of real property
  4. The care, custody, or control of trees, traffic controls, and street lighting
  5. Any dangerous conditions of utility service facilities
  6. Dangerous conditions of streets, e.g., potholes, fallen guardrails
  7. Dangerous condition of sidewalks
  8. The care, custody, or control of animals

What special rules should I know about suits against the government?

Even when a victim’s case meets one of the exceptions, Pennsylvania laws impose various rules on restrictions on the recovery process.

  • Shorter time limits – While you have two years to file a normal injury claim against a private party, when you file against the government, you will have only 30 to 180 days to take action, depending upon the municipality’s rules.
  • Filing a notice – Prior to taking any legal action, you must file a Notice of Claim with the agency and all involved government parties to notify them of the incident and of your intentions to seek recovery.
  • Recovery limits – The government limits the amount of restitution you can receive. In cases against the state, the maximum allowable settlement is $250,000; in local cases, the maximum settlement is $500,000. And you cannot recover punitive damages at all.
  • Lawsuit limitations – You can only file a lawsuit against the government after you have exhausted all administrative remedies.

How do I begin seeking financial recovery from the government?

Your first step to seeking recovery is to retain a personal injury lawyer who handles cases of this nature in your state and/or municipality. Your lawyer will assess the case, determine if it meets all the requisites, and then help you take action.

The basic process involves filing a Notice of Claim with the appropriate parties, filing a claim with evidence to prove your case, and then awaiting the agency to accept or reject your claim. If the agency rejects your claim, you can then pursue remedy by filing a lawsuit. Your attorney can help you navigate the process and explain the steps in greater detail.

If you were injured and a Pennsylvania government entity was involved, we encourage you to reach out to our personal injury attorneys for a free consultation. We are well-versed in cases of this nature, and would be happy to review your case at no-charge. We accept all types of injury and wrongful death government injury claims, from sidewalk accidents to public transit accidents.

Contact our caring, determined team at Cordisco & Saile LLC today to get started: 215-791-8911.