Injured By A Public Employee? What Are Your Options?

Whether you've been injured in an auto accident or even physically assaulted at the hands of another, you may be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit to help you recover your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages stemming from this incident. While personal injury lawsuits are generally handled like other types of tort claims (from product liability lawsuits to wrongful termination), filing a personal injury lawsuit against someone employed by the state or a governmental agency without following proper protocol could lead to the dismissal of your lawsuit. If your injury was caused by a city, county, or state employee, you'll need to do some additional research before filing your claim. Read on to learn about how personal injury claims against public employees are handled.

When can (and can't) you sue a public employee for personal injury?

The public (or governmental) and private sectors differ in a number of ways -- and one of the chief differences involves governmental or sovereign immunity. 

Under the principle of sovereign immunity, a state (or other governmental entity) and its actors can't be sued for acting in accordance with a strong governmental interest, even if this act results in the injury or death of another. For example, a police officer who is racing to the scene of an accident and strikes a pedestrian with his or her vehicle may not be held personally responsible for this accident if he or she was acting in accordance with the state's interest (in providing prompt aid to those injured in auto accidents) or at the state's instruction. Similarly, a state highway department that closes down a major highway to perform repairs can't be held liable for accidents resulting from the increased traffic in surrounding areas. 

On the other hand, an employee who is involved in an accident while rushing to be at work on time is unlikely to be protected under sovereign immunity, as this haste was not designed to further or assist a government interest -- just the employee's own interest in not being late. In addition, this sovereign immunity doctrine applies only while these employees are "on the job." A public employee who injures a civilian while drinking and driving after hours won't be able to raise government employment as a defense, nor will someone running a non-work-related errand during work hours.

What are your options if you're injured by a government employee who raises the defense of sovereign immunity?

While sovereign immunity does provide strong protections to government actors, there are a number of listed exceptions -- and the simple fact of the defendant's government employment may not be enough to insulate him or her from liability if one of these exceptions applies or if the employee's actions weren't in furtherance of a strong government interest. These exceptions range from bad faith to employment discrimination. 

However, even if such an exception is deemed to apply, you'll still need to cycle your personal injury case through your state's torts claim department, rather than filing it directly with the trial court. These state and federal organizations help compile and evaluate legal claims pending against the government and its agents to maximize efficiency and minimize the effort (and expense) the government must incur in defending against these claims. 

After you've filed your complaint under your state's torts claims act, you may later receive a "right to sue" letter or a letter informing you that your claim is denied. Even if your claim is denied, you may be able to file a lawsuit -- however, you'll want to consult an experienced attorney to ensure that all your pleadings conform to the requirements and that your case won't be dismissed on procedural grounds.

For more information, talk with a personal injury lawyer or visit websites like

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