Can you sue a city? The short answer is that you can sue a city. Cities are subject to civil litigation, including personal injury claims. The process is distinct from and substantially more difficult than suing a person, business, or other private institution, though.
We’ll discuss some scenarios in which suing a city may be feasible in this post and examine how these claims function. We’ll also examine some specifics of how the procedure works in most cities.
How can I sue the city?
You have a finite amount of time to pursue your legal rights by suing the city for negligence if you have experienced a personal injury connected to the local government, such as a vehicle accident involving a city employee.
To find out if sovereign immunity has been waived in your case so that you can sue the local government, speak with a personal injury attorney.
Cases where you can sue a city
The most prevalent sorts of cases made against the government — negligence and accident tort cases — are covered under several state and federal Tort Claims Acts.
Torts are civil wrongdoings that cause harm; each state has its own tort claims statute under which it has relinquished sovereign immunity for certain types of claims that may arise under state law.
Similarly, in 1946, the federal government created the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to allow injured citizens to sue the United States government for damage caused by federal agencies and employees.
As a result, the government has relinquished its sovereign immunity in certain types of litigation under various federal and state statutes.
Your possible claims against a city may differ based on the state where the incident occurred, but in general, you can sue a city (as well as the federal government) for:
- Damage to Property
- Accidents involving buses, trains, and automobiles
- Negligence (Personal Injury)
- Unjust Death
- Malpractice in Medicine
- Premises Liability (for example, a slip and fall on the sidewalk)
- Contract Breach
- Violations of Civil Rights
Depending on the particular rules of your state, more claims against the city can be possible.
Scope of Employment
Remember that most complaints against the government, including the city, are the result of employee misconduct.
To bring a claim against a city for damages done to your possessions or person, you must be able to prove that a public servant’s actions directly contributed to your suffering.
It is not enough that the person who causes you harm is a government employee.
For example, if a city employee causes a car accident that involves you, that person may be personally liable. That is, if they were driving on their own time and as a private citizens, such as on a weekend outing.
However, if a person does you harm while acting within the course of their employment with the city government, you have a solid case that the city is liable for your losses. In other words, a government employer may incur liability for their employee’s actions while doing their job duties.
How to Sue a City for Negligence
Generally, you will first claim with the local government, after which you will be routed to either the city attorney’s office or the risk management division.
After receiving your claim, the city has three options:
- Accept the claim and pay your compensation.
- Negotiate with you to settle your case for a sum less than the entire amount of damages you’ve indicated.
- Deny the claim completely.
There is a slim probability that the city will merely accept your claim and reimburse you for all losses.
Most frequently, the city will attempt to reject the claim or reduce the compensation. You may sue the city for negligence if you and the city are unable to agree with your claim.
You must establish negligence on the part of the city, and that negligence must have contributed to or directly caused your injuries and damages, as with any litigation.
Additionally, you should think about whether the responsible party was a single government employee or the entire government, as the distinction may have an impact on some areas of your case. (We’ll cover this in more detail later in the article.)
If you’re familiar with punitive damages, you should know that most states won’t let you sue a city government for these types of damages.
Punitive damages are not admissible in claims against cities or municipalities in North Carolina.
Verify your state’s statute of limitations before filing a personal injury or negligence lawsuit. In North Carolina, wrongful death claims and personal injury claims must take place within two and three years, respectively.
When can a city be sued?
As previously stated, a city may face liability civilly for hurting someone.
However, a person might not always have the right to file a lawsuit against a city for their injuries.
The legal term “standing” describes a person’s ability to file a lawsuit against another party.
As stated above, if a person suffers harm at the hands of a third party, they have the right to sue that party for any damages they cause as a result of their willful, reckless, or negligent acts or omissions.
In the case of a city, however, an injured party may not necessarily have legal standing to file a lawsuit against the city or local government.
This is due to numerous federal and state rules that restrict when an injured party may file a civil case against the municipal or local government. Furthermore, the regulations governing a city’s obligations will vary depending on its jurisdiction.
The Right to Sovereign Immunity
A legal issue known as sovereign immunity can present difficulties when initiating a lawsuit against a municipality.
At first glance, sovereign immunity appears to make suing a government impossible.
Why would the government allow you to sue them when they could just say “no”? This was a legitimate issue in the past, as sovereign immunity made it incredibly difficult to sue governments.
However, due to political pressure from the public, many states have reduced sovereign immunity in recent years. Many cities and municipalities no longer enjoy sovereign immunity.
Even in areas where the state government retains sovereign immunity, such as North Carolina, the government has waived this immunity and authorized negligence claims against itself in specific instances.
What about municipal and county governments?
This, again, is dependent on where you live. Most cities grant immunity to local governments where the act in question occurred while the government (or an employee of the government) was executing governmental functions.
However, the government does not enjoy immunity if the suit involves proprietary activity (that is, an activity that a government agency would not normally perform).
It can be quite difficult to distinguish between government involvement and proprietary activity, and court rulings on the subject haven’t always been consistent.
Generally speaking, sovereign immunity is a complicated subject that differs greatly from state to state and case to case.
As a result, you should speak with an experienced lawyer to receive individualized guidance regarding how sovereign immunity may affect your particular case.
How Do Public Entities Get Immunity?
Because state governments can adopt immunity, the city can assert immunity in many ways in a personal injury.
For example, if you were trespassing on city land, you might not be able to sue for damages.
When serving the public, first responders are sometimes protected by immunity clauses. So if a police officer responding to an emergency call runs a red light and smashes your car, the city may not be accountable for the damages.
Of course, even when immunity rules apply, they are subject to limitations. The police officer in the above case should have had his lights and siren activated. Failure to activate their lights and siren a red light may be considered a breach of duty of care.
Who Can Act on Behalf of a City?
Numerous individuals may be allowed to act on behalf of a city. For example, the following city personnel is usually allowed to step into the shoes of the city and act on its behalf:
- Police officers, firefighters, and other members of law enforcement;
- The city hired utility workers and landscapers.
- The city hired construction workers.
- Other city employees include members of the local government and administrative officers.
- Medical personnel, social workers, and teachers in the city.
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may be able to recover a certain amount of money. In general, you can expect to receive compensation if you file a lawsuit. Once you succeed against the local administration, you can get damages for your:
- Pain and suffering, as well as a loss of enjoyment of life.
- Work-related time and money loss (lost wages).
- Medical bills as well as caretaker costs.
- The cost of replacing damaged or destroyed goods.
- The income and companionship of a loved one have been lost as a result of their death.
Furthermore, depending on your state and the nature of your claim, you may be eligible to obtain:
- Punitive damages: a court ruling ordering the government to pay up to three times the amount of losses you experienced.
- Injunctive relief, also known as specific performance, is a court order that requires the government to either start doing something
Summary of when to sue a city:
Suing a city is a civil litigation process that is distinct from suing a person, business, or other private institution.
Each state has its own tort claims statute under which it has relinquished sovereign immunity for certain types of claims.