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SUING THE GOVERNMENT

Many people wrongly assume that the government can’t be sued. The fact is, the government does enjoy broad immunity from liability for injury victims’ damages, but that immunity is not absolute. There are a number of circumstances under which one can seek recovery for damages from the federal or state government or a local municipality.

While a lawsuit can be brought against a government agency, HKQ Attorney Michael Lombardo cautions that, “these types of cases are far more difficult to prevail in than normal personal injury claims”. 

Immunity Laws

Government agencies are protected by either sovereign immunity or governmental immunity.

The former applies to lawsuits against the federal or state governments. The latter covers claims against local municipalities.

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a federal statute that permits private parties to sue the United States for certain torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. The FTCA provides a limited waiver of the federal government's sovereign immunity when its employees are negligent within the scope of their employment. The law of the state where the act or omission occurred must permit the claim. The federal government can’t be sued in state court. The civil suit is typically filed in the United States District Court where the aggrieved party lives or where the actions giving rise to the claim occurred. Punitive damages are precluded by FTCA.

Pennsylvania has two statutes which shield its government agencies from liability when people suffer injury on government property or by government workers. The Sovereign Immunity Act provides the state with immunity from lawsuits. The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act provides essentially the same rules and protections for municipalities, e.g., local government agencies.

The Sovereign Immunity Act provides nine exceptions where sovereign immunity will not apply. These exceptions include:

  1. Vehicle liability
  2. Medical professional liability
  3. Care, custody or control of personal property
  4. Commonwealth real estate, highways and sidewalks
  5. Potholes and other dangerous conditions
  6. Care, custody or control of animals
  7. Liquor store sales
  8. National Guard activities
  9. Toxoids and vaccines

In Cagey v. Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the state can be held liable for dangerous guardrails. The Court’s decision was based on the real estate exception to sovereign immunity. The dangerous guardrail in question was located on Commonwealth real estate adjacent to a highway. In arriving at its decision, the Court noted that “the real estate exception to sovereign immunity is broad in that it applies to dangerous conditions of all Commonwealth real estate, not just dangerous conditions of highways.”

The types of damages allowed under the Sovereign Immunity Act include: (1) past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity; (2) pain and suffering; (3) medical and dental expenses; (4) loss of consortium; and (5) property losses (except in actions involving dangerous conditions created by potholes and sinkholes on Commonwealth highways.)

Under the Sovereign Immunity Act, damages shall not exceed $250,000 in favor of any plaintiff or $1,000,000 in the aggregate.

The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, which bars suits against local municipalities, provides a number of exceptions, including:

  1. Operation of a motor vehicle
  2. Care, custody or control of personal property of others in the possession or control of local agency
  3. Care, custody or control of real property in the possession of the local agency
  4. Care, custody or control of trees, traffic controls and street lighting, which create a dangerous condition
  5. A dangerous condition of utility service facilities
  6. A dangerous condition of streets
  7. A dangerous condition of sidewalks
  8. The care, custody or control of animals

The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act establishes a statutory cap which provides that damages shall not exceed $500,000 in the aggregate.

If you’ve suffered a serious injury due to the negligence of a government agency or employee, call HKQ Law at (800) 760-1529 to discuss the case with one of our personal injury attorneys.

About Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, PC

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The firm’s Personal Injury Team has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history and was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joseph A. Quinn, Jr. focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A. Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania)
honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm for personal injury and medical malpractice litigation in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at www.HKQLaw.com or by calling (800) 760-1529.

				

 

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