Government Building Liability

Government Building Liability

For the most part, governments at every level, including federal, state, and municipal, are technically protected against personal injury claims that occur on their property under a doctrine called the sovereign immunity rule, which basically means a person can’t sue the government for injuries caused by its employees or which were incurred on its properties. Basically, since we technically own the government, we can’t sue ourselves.

Thankfully, exceptions to sovereign immunity have been carved out in the law, primarily through the Federal Tort Claims Act, which was passed by Congress in 1948, and took a lot of the bite out of the concept of sovereign immunity by allowing people who were injured on federal property or by federal employees to make a claim against the government. Slowly, one by one, states followed suit and passed their own version of the Tort Claims Act and effectively waiving sovereign immunity.

Over the years, a number of courts have ruled that all government entities at every level are responsible for making government property, including government buildings, safe for all visitors, including private parties who are coming in for services, vendors and contractors who are there to make repairs or improvements or build something.

Whenever a government agency fails to keep the buildings the government owns or controls safe and free of hazards, they can be considered negligent, and from that negligence can arise tort claims against the government, which means they can end up paying the same types of damages as private companies, including medical bills, lost wages and other income, out-of-pocket expenses and pain and suffering. There are a couple of differences from private injury claims, however, in that most governments cap settlement amounts, and they also exclude punitive damages, such as reckless disregard for the safety of others and gross negligence.

Among some of the most common incidents that lead to personal injury claims in government buildings are slips and falls, assaults and being struck by objects. They can happen in office buildings, courthouses, museums, schools or bus and train stations.

In order to prove negligence against the government in a government building, it’s necessary to show that a government agency owned or controlled the property, that a dangerous condition existed on the property, knew it existed and had adequate time to alleviate the hazard. It’s also necessary for the injured party to show that any reckless or hazardous conduct didn’t cause the injury.

Government Building Liability in Texas

The process for filing an injury claim against the government differs from private claims as well. Normally, in actions against private entities would start with notifying the negligent party’s insurance company to try to work out a settlement. If no settlement can be made, a lawsuit is filed. Making a claim against the government doesn’t work that way.

First, it’s necessary to file a notice of claim to make the relevant agency aware of the injured party’s intention to seek compensation. That notice gives them time to respond to your claim with either an admission of denial — most of the time, it’s around 45 days — if they admit the claim, they will send compensation, but if they reject it, then a lawsuit can be filed, usually within six months.