January 8, 2018
Can I Sue the Government When One of Its Vehicles Causes My Accident?
Suing a driver for causing a traffic accident is usually straightforward in Pennsylvania. You find out where the defendant lives, file a complaint in court, and serve a summons and copy of the complaint on the other driver, usually at the driver’s home. But what happens if you’ve been injured by someone driving a government vehicle? With so many government vehicles on the road, this isn’t a remote possibility; government employees are as capable of causing a wreck as any other citizen. Read on to find out when and how you can sue a driver of a government vehicle to recover compensation for damages.
Government Vehicles on the Road
There are many state and local agencies that have employees out on the road as part of their daily jobs. Consider some of the following vehicles you’re likely to see every day:
- School buses
- Police cars
- Fire trucks
- Department of Transportation vehicles
- City vehicles
The drivers of all of these vehicles owe the other drivers on the road a duty of driving with reasonable care. Unfortunately, government employees sometimes make mistakes, just like other drivers on the road. They may become distracted or careless and cause an accident.
Injuries Caused by Government Drivers
Negligent government employees can cause catastrophic injuries to unsuspecting drivers on the road. If you’re hit by a government vehicle, you might suffer from any of the following:
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Spinal injuries, such as a herniated disk or fractured vertebrae
- Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions
- Thermal or chemical burns
Recovery time can be extensive, with many victims suffering from intense pain that keeps them out of work. All the while, medical and other bills continue to pile up, putting further emotional strain on victims and their families. Depending on the severity of the injury, victims sometimes suffer a loss of companionship with their spouse and withdraw from family and friends. They may sink into a deep depression that requires therapy and psychiatric drugs.
Immunity Law in Pennsylvania
This might surprise you, but state and local governments are generally immune from lawsuits brought by their citizens. For example, the state’s Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8521, limits the state’s legal liability for any injuries that government agencies and their employees cause. Likewise, the state’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8541, limits legal liability for local agencies like the city. This means the government can hurt you through no fault of your own and escape all legal responsibility for your injuries.
Fortunately, each law contains an exception for automobile accidents caused by government employees. The state law allows you to sue for the operation “of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of a Commonwealth party.” And the political subdivision law permits you to sue for the operation “of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency,” provided you aren’t suing because you are a criminal who was injured when fleeing arrest.
According to each law, you must show that the vehicle was in the “possession and control” of the state or local government. Essentially, this means you can’t sue the government if someone steals the vehicle and then injures you with it. But, if a government employee is driving the vehicle as part of her normal job duties, then you should be able to sue.
What You Must Prove
As in most other traffic accidents, you’ll only get compensated for your injuries if you can show that the government driver was sufficiently careless (negligent). Moreover, the driver’s negligence must have caused your injuries. Common examples of negligence include the following:
- Not looking before changing lanes
- Not looking ahead
- Blowing through an intersection
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Failing to yield
- Texting or talking on the phone while driving
- Not maintaining the vehicle properly, such as not repairing worn out brakes
Furthermore, you must show that you have a recognizable legal injury. For example, a city vehicle might have raced through an intersection and almost hit you. Although you’re probably very scared, you haven’t suffered an injury that the government needs to compensate you for. Instead, you’ll most likely only get compensation if you can show that you suffered a serious bodily injury. In those situations, you can recover the costs of medical treatment and pain and suffering.
Providing Mandatory Notice
Lawsuits against the government are a little different from other lawsuits in one important respect: you must provide the government written notice that you intend to sue it. In particular, you must provide notice to the government agency that controls the vehicle, and you need to provide notice to the state’s Attorney General.
Furthermore, you are only permitted six months from the date of your injury to provide this notice, so you can’t delay. The notice gives the government time to investigate so that it can decide whether to settle with you or to fight in court.
Your notice must contain specific information to be effective, so it’s a good idea to employ an experienced personal injury attorney before sending it. At a minimum, your notice must contain the following:
- The victim’s name and residence
- The name and residence of the person who is bringing the lawsuit (if different from the victim)
- When the accident occurred (date and hour)
- The location of the accident
- The name and office address of your attending physician
If you fail to provide this written notice to the appropriate government offices, then your lawsuit will be dismissed. This means no money for your injuries, no ability to hold the government agency responsible for its actions, and no lawsuit.
Call a Philadelphia Car Accident Attorney Today
Accident victims deserve compensation, whether they are injured by a private citizen or a government employee. At The Levin Firm, we help accident victims and their families get the compensation they need to start rebuilding their lives. Call us today for a free consultation at 215-825-5183 or fill out our online contact form.