Prior to 1946, the government could not be sued based on the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity. However, today, if a person is injured because of the acts of a government employee acting within the scope of employment, the injured person can sue the government for personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage. Therefore, if a visitor slips and falls on negligently maintained stairs at a federal building, that visitor would have a claim for negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
State governments have their own immunity laws. In Georgia, sovereign immunity is waived in certain situations. If a driver is injured in an accident due to a malfunctioning street light or perhaps an obstructed stop sign, she may be able to recover damages from the government entity responsible for the stop light or sign. Her first step would be to file a notice of claim to let the government know that she has been injured. For cities, this must be filed within six months after the accident and within a year after the accident for counties and state entities.
Filing this notice is very important and can cause a victim to lose her case if she doesn’t follow the rules. For example, in a case wherein a Waynesboro police officer drove his patrol car into the back of the victim’s automobile, the victim she lost her negligence case. The court dismissed the case, finding that the victim did not file appropriate notice within six months of the accident. The court further noted that a state statute prevented the victim for suing the victim from suing the officer personally.
Because of the formalities requires and protective rules, it can therefore be difficult to sue the government, but it is not impossible. Hiring a good lawyer that understands the rules and limitations is a good way to start!