When Victims Cannot Sue the Government Over a Car Accident Injury
Drivers in Michigan know that if they are in a car accident, in most cases the state’s no fault law will cover any economic losses. While there may be instances of low offers from your insurance company, or the occasional third party claim where another party’s liability can be proven, the majority of claims are settled fairly easily.
But what happens when a government entity is involved? If it was a government employee driving while working or driving a motor vehicle belonging to a government agency, do you still have the same rights and can you make a claim against the government?
If you have been involved in a car accident in Michigan, the normal way to proceed is to claim on your own no fault insurance. Your insurance coverage will usually cover all your main expenses such as medical bills and property damage as well as up to 85% of any lost salary due to being off work.
In some cases, there may be an option to pursue a claim for third party liability. For example, where the at fault driver was under the influence of drink or drugs or where it can be proven they broke a traffic law such as speeding or ignoring a stop light. But what if the accident involved a government vehicle or employee?
The Federal Tort Claims Act
This is where the law gets complicated, very complicated at times. The federal and state laws that cover these questions have their origins in the medieval laws of England, where the sovereign was given immunity from being sued or prosecuted by his – or her – subjects. The modern day version means that under the The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), you cannot sue a government entity or employee without the express permission of the government.
The first question to ask will be whether your particular claim can be allowed under the FTCA. That may include factors such as what the employee’s role was, if they were directly or independently employed. If there does appear to be reasonable grounds for a claim, then your personal injury attorney will advise that you file what is known as an “administrative claim.” It is worth noting that you must file your claim with the particular branch of the government that you feel is liable. For example, if the vehicle and employee were part of the Department of Defense, then you would submit the claim to them. The agency or department then has six months to respond. If there is no response, then you may be able to proceed with your lawsuit.
While the FTCA applies to federal departments and employees, there is a slightly different – but just as complex – law for state agencies and employees. Michigan has the Governmental Tort Liability Act. While this act serves the same purpose as the FTCA in – generally – preventing you from suing the government, there are also some very specific exclusions from the act.
- Maintaining any public roads and highways. State law requires that the responsible agencies keep all roads under their remit safe to use.
- Negligence while operating a vehicle owned by the state government. If an employee of a state agency is negligent while driving a state owned vehicle, then the agency in question may be liable. Any claim must only come from the person who was injured – or from their family in the event of wrongful death. To pursue a claim, the circumstances must also meet the requirements of no-fault law.
- Defects in public buildings where there is proof that a state agency was involved (or responsible for upkeep), and that any dangerous condition was known to that agency and that they had failed to act on that knowledge.
- Medical malpractice in state owned hospitals or clinics. There is – on paper – some immunity to this in that premises owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Community Health or the Department of Corrections should not be held liable. However, that immunity has not always been upheld by the courts.
- Sewage and drainage. Similarly to public buildings, if a sewer or storm drain or similar is not maintained or repaired and that inaction leads to damage, then the responsible agency may be liable.
If you do think that you have grounds to file a lawsuit against a government agency, then your accident attorneys will advise you on the various time limits and processes involved. These can vary greatly between state, federal, and city agencies, but the main ones to remember are:
- 120 days – if filing a claim in regards to defects in a public building or on a road or highway. This may be part of any claim regarding an auto accident if there is proof that defects or poor maintenance in the road contributed to the accident.
- 6 months – to file your formal (administrative) claim against the relevant agency.
- 2 years – if your administrative claim is rejected – or not responded to – then you have 2 years to file your lawsuit against the state.
Where there is involvement – and liability – of a government entity or employee in your car accident, then the legal questions surrounding any potential personal injury case may be complicated. There is also the consideration that Michigan does not award punitive damages (which are meant to punish the defendant) but only exemplary damages (which compensate the plaintiff). There are definitely scenarios where you can pursue a claim against the government or one of its agencies and your attorney will guide you on the legitimacy of any claim.
Here at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, we have been navigating the intricacies of personal injury law for many years now, and that includes cases where there is identifiable and provable liability on the part of a government agency or employee. If you feel you have a case in relation to this subject, then why not take advantage of our free appointment offer and call us today at (866)-779-7331.