Every year, people are injured due to the negligence of others. In fact, medical error is one of the leading causes of death in America. Automobile accidents account for a large percent of all accidental deaths as well. While most cases involve private citizens, the government is sometimes negligent. People often assume the government – federal or state – cannot be held liable due to something called “sovereign immunity.” However, this is incorrect. Federal, state, and local governments can be held liable for negligence, provided there is express legal authority to sue. This comes from either state constitutions or legislation.
Vanderbloom v. State of Vermont, Agency of Transportation
While it is possible to bring a claim for injuries against a state, it is certainly difficult. One striking recent example comes from Vermont. In 2009, a two-vehicle collision in Vermont left one person injured and one dead. Upon filing suit against the state, the court found that the State's sovereign immunity barred the claim. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling, essentially barring the plaintiff's case entirely. The important part is why.
By default, government entities are immune from liability unless their constitutions or legislatures permit it. So, courts look strictly at the laws that allow a suit. In Vermont, the statute that permits a case to be brought against the State also outlines eight exceptions where the State does not permit suit – one being suits brought against the State for negligent highway design and construction.
Washington State Tort Claims
Here in Washington, the legislature has a similar law that allows claims against the State. Under Wash Rev. Code Ann. § 4.92.100, people may bring tort claims against the State of Washington for the negligence of State employees for conduct in the performance of their official duties. However, such a claim must first be presented to the Office of Risk Management for the purpose of settling the claim without litigation. Only after a denial or unsatisfactory resolution may a claimant file suit. As with most states, Washington has a host of limitations and restrictions that must be reviewed before filing such claims, including strict time limitations.
Common Injuries Caused by State and Local Government
Spokane is notorious for having some of the worst roads in the country, so it should come as no surprise that many motorists are injured driving on them every year. Poor road construction, maintenance, and improvements may cause or lead to preventable accidents and make otherwise minor accidents more severe. While there may be other drivers at fault, sometimes there are other key defendants to blame, such as local municipalities or state entities, which should be named in a lawsuit. Similarly, state-run hospitals are often responsible for medical errors, just like private hospitals. State and local government employees are also capable of causing deadly automobile accidents. These are just a few examples of how government can be responsible for injuries.
If you or someone you know has been injured, and you believe government actions or inactions are possibly to blame, you should seek the advice of an experienced Spokane injury lawyer who can review your case to determine whether sovereign immunity bars your claim. If not, your lawyer can help navigate the complex world of Washington State Tort Claims.