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Suing State and Local Governments

Monday, July 23rd, 2018 By

Claims against government entities contain extra steps and several complications. It is easy to mishandle claims if you sustain injuries on government property or in an accident involving a city bus. If there is any situation where the guidance of a personal injury is vital, it is this one. Here is what to know about suing a city or state government.

General Differences

You can sue a government, agency or even an individual employee of the government, but it requires taking additional steps. Otherwise, all other rules of a lawsuit apply.

Negligence and liability assigned to these entities are controlled by the Maryland Tort Claims Act. Every state has a statute similar to this and it describes the procedure for requesting damages from a government entity or employee.

The Tort Claims Act requires plaintiffs to send a claim letter within one year of an injury. It will also limit damages and require notification to specific officials. In Maryland, the damage cap is $400,000 per claimant and that includes medical bills, wage loss, and pain and suffering.

This law likely affects you more than you are aware. Most people imagine an accident while using public transportation or being rear-ended by an employee driving a county vehicle. However, the state also operates schools, universities, prisons, hospitals, bridges, roads, and a variety of other public services. If you are injured on the premises of a state university, for example, your claim will fall under the Tort Claims Act.

Tort Claim Letter

If you have a claim with the state, the tort claim letter must be delivered to the State Treasurer within a year of the incident. For city or local governments, you will send this letter to the city attorney.

Contents of the letter must include:

  • Name and addresses of people involved;
  • Description of where, how, and when you were injured;
  • Details about your injuries;
  • A demand for damages, usually just an estimate;
  • If you hired a lawyer, their name, address, and telephone number;
  • Your signature and contact information.

This changes slightly if your injuries involved public transportation. Rather than sending a tort claim letter to the Treasurer, you will send it to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). The MTA will act in the same capacity as an insurance company for accidents involving private individuals. It will investigate your claim and likely take longer than the two year statute of limitations imposed on personal injury cases. You will likely file a lawsuit to preserve your claim before this investigation concludes.

The tort claims letter is often finished early in the claim except for demanding damages. If an accident happened one week ago and you are still receiving treatment, there is no reliable way to estimate damages. Many times, that section is the least detailed since giving a number early in the case can limit compensation later at the settlement stage. If you decide to wait until your injuries resolved, be careful not to miss the one-year deadline and write down the details now while your memory is fresh.

Challenges

When you sue a local or state government, there are more procedures and they are often very technical in nature. If you neglect submitting a tort claims letter, you can still sue but the government’s attorney will move for dismissal and likely secure it.

Government entities have a good incentive to show claims against them are invalid–public relations. No one wants to deal with a negative public perception after a large bus crash or poorly managed city construction efforts. If there is any window to show that you were at fault rather than those associated with the government, attorneys will take advantage of it.

Sometimes, the problem is not with the entity itself but with one employee. People may neglect the tort claims letter and pursue the employee personally. This only works in rare cases of intentional misconduct or gross negligence (for example, causing an accident while driving impaired in a government vehicle).

You may also need assistance knowing who to pursue. Whether the defendant is a government, agency, transit authority or other actor in an official capacity, can be difficult to ascertain. Yet this determines how to proceed.

If you sustained injuries due to the negligence of a state or local government, hiring an attorney is the best way to assure you complete required procedures in a timely manner and present your claim in the best light possible. For assistance with your claim against the government, contact DuBoff & Associates, Chtd. today.

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