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Not many clients are aware that civil claims, including personal injury claims, brought against a governmental entity are not handled entirely the same way as a legal claim against a business or private citizen.

There are certain rules of procedure and different statutes of limitation that apply to claims brought against a governmental entity.  There are also other legal challenges that must be overcome, such as immunity or protection against lawsuits. 

If you are faced with a claim against a municipality, be sure to consult with a personal injury lawyer who has experience handling these types of cases.

Common Types of Claims Against Municipalities

As every personal injury lawyer understands, citizens interact with the government in many situations without realizing the government is involved.  Some accidents occur because of the negligence or failures of government employees. 

For example, some of the most common claims against government entities are a result of poor maintenance or supervision with regard to public streets, sidewalks, schools, parks, pools, or offices.

Determining Who is Responsible for Sidewalk Repairs

Basically, it is the property owner who is responsible for the condition of a sidewalk that adjoins his or her property.  In some cities, private property owners will receive notices that repair is required and the failure to do so will result in a fine being imposed. A private property owner is responsible for repairing cracks and uneven pavement on a sidewalk that is for public use.

However, responsibility may be different when a sidewalk is not adjoining the property of a private citizen or a business.  In that situation, it is typically the responsibility of the government entity where the sidewalk is located.  Government agencies have the same duties and liabilities as a private citizen, in that the sidewalks must stay safe and free from any dangerous condition that may cause injury to a pedestrian.

For example, under Missouri law, cities have a non-delegable duty to repair and maintain all public sidewalks.  That means a city cannot pass on its obligation to someone else, regardless of any contract or agreement.  Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for a city to refuse to accept liability in these cases.

Certain Exceptions to Liability May Apply to Municipalities

Unlike your average citizen, municipalities are easily responsible for hundreds of square feet of sidewalk or more.  For this, and other reasons, many cities have established regulations to protect themselves from liability for injuries related to sidewalks. The courts seem to agree in many cases that it is unreasonable to expect a municipality to patrol every square foot of sidewalk to prevent any defects.

Therefore, the general rule is that, unless the municipality has “actual or constructive notice” of the dangerous condition, it will not be held liable for injuries resulting therefrom. “Actual” notice is usually given by a citizen’s written complaint. “Constructive” notice, on the other hand, is accomplished when the condition is so obviously dangerous that the municipality should have known to correct it.

Filing a Claim Against a Municipality is More Complicated

In certain circumstances, a town, city, county or state government can be held responsible for injuries, just as a private individual or business can. 

The difference is, there are stricter procedures and deadlines that apply to cases where the government is involved.   If the required steps are not followed, your claim may be dismissed. Here are some of the rules you need to know.

The Statute of Limitations for Government Claims May be Shorter

All civil claims have a statute of limitations period, that is, the deadline for filing a lawsuit for a particular type of claim.  This time period generally begins when the injury occurs and ranges from one to six years.  However, when the party you are suing is a government agency, the time limits are much stricter. 

In many jurisdictions, you must file a claim with the government within 30, 60, 90 or 120 days of your injury.  Some states have different time limits for claims against a city, town, or county.  So, it is important to know the specific time limit for your claim.

Most States Have Notice of Claim Requirements

In most jurisdictions, individuals are not allowed to file a lawsuit in court against a government entity, without first providing specific notice to the appropriate government agency. 

Each state also has detailed guidelines on how that “Notice of Claim” must be submitted and what it must include.  Again, if these requirements are not followed, with regard to the notice of claim, your lawsuit could be dismissed.

The Issue of Governmental Immunity

Another legal principle that can make claims against the government more difficult, is immunity.  There was a time when most government entities could not be sued.  Although the immunity governments are afforded is less broad now, there are still many injury claims for which you cannot recover against the government.  The extent of immunity available to a government entity depends on the state. 

Your personal injury attorney will be able to confirm for you whether immunity will bar your claims.

If you have questions regarding claims against the government or any other personal injury issues in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation, either online or by calling toll-free at 888-616-6356.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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