Normally, if you are injured through no fault of your own, you have the right to recover money for all of your costs and losses. This money is paid by the person or company who caused your injury, or their insurance policy. But what if your accident was caused by the government—or someone working for the government? In that case, the rules change, and a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity comes into play.
What is sovereign immunity?
Sovereign immunity is a concept that dates back to the Middle Ages. In that period, kings (sovereigns) were immune from being sued, because they were the law itself; nothing the king did, by definition, could be wrong. This concept has survived into the present day, although it serves a very different purpose in our modern democracy.
In the United States, sovereign immunity now means that the government can only be sued if it gives its consent. In other words, it can choose whether to allow you to file suit or not. This has given rise to laws about which types of lawsuits can be brought against the government and which cannot. And, even if your lawsuit is able to go forward, you will face some different rules compared to a normal lawsuit.
Although it sounds outdated, sovereign immunity actually has an important role. It prevents citizens from suing the government every time they dislike something the government does. This allows all levels of government the authority and protection they need to carry out their duties. However, it also complicates normal, valid lawsuits.
How does sovereign immunity affect my personal injury claim?
It only affects your claim if the defendant—the party who caused the injury—is a government agency or a person who was working in their official capacity on behalf of the government. For example, if your car was hit by a Parks and Recreation truck, sovereign immunity applies. But if the same Parks and Recreation employee hit you while driving their own car, off the clock, it’s just a normal claim.
For the purposes of a personal injury claim, sovereign immunity has two main effects on your case:
- You face tighter deadlines. In Georgia, you usually have up to two years to file a claim for an injury (although this varies depending on the case). However, if the government is involved, the deadline is much shorter—often six months or a year.
- You may have to file an administrative claim first. If your claim is with the federal government, you are required to go through an “administrative” process outside of the courts. This is basically a chance for the government to make things right without a lawsuit. In most cases, it will not resolve your claim and you will have to go to court anyway, but you must complete this step first.
There may be other complicating factors as well. When a government entity is involved in a claim, it’s important that you speak to a qualified personal injury attorney immediately.
What types of cases may involve sovereign immunity?
Any kind of case can potentially involve the government, and thus the doctrine of sovereign immunity. But it’s most common in certain types of claims:
- Car accidents and truck accidents that involve a government vehicle (including police squad cars)
- Slip and fall accidents and other premise liability claims if the accident took place on government property, including City Hall, public parks, or any other government-owned premise
- Any kind of injury caused by, or involving, a person who works for the government, if they were acting as a government representative (“on the clock”) when it happened
Personal injury claims against the government can be very complicated, but you can still recover the full amount you are owed. Always get professional legal help after your accident.
Have you been injured? John Foy & Associates offers a free consultation with some of the most experienced and respected personal injury lawyers in Georgia. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.