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What to Know About Suing the Government in Pennsylvania

July 22, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

On June 27, 2018, a one-year-old crawled onto a window ledge in an apartment building and fell 30 feet to the ground below. Now his parents are filing a lawsuit alleging wrongful death. The lawsuit names the local housing authority and other parties who manufactured the windows and locks and managed the property.

The child’s parents are alleging that the window did not have proper locking mechanisms. The defendants, according to the lawsuit, should have known that the lack of safety features could reasonably cause an injury or death and so, the defendants were negligent. The suit is seeking more than $50,000 in compensatory damages.

The lawsuit is an interesting one, due to the fact that it involves a municipality, which has different rules than when suing when a private citizen.

Suing the State vs. Suing a Municipality

Generally speaking, both the state and municipalities are shielded by sovereign immunity, which protects them from lawsuits. There are exceptions to this law. You can file a lawsuit against the state if you would have otherwise been able to sue a non-government party, and if the accident involved:

  • A government worker in a state vehicle
  • A worker in a state medical facility
  • The custody, care, or control of personal property
  • Real property in the care, custody and control of the state
  • Improper care resulting in dangerous conditions on a state highway
  • Animals that were in the care, custody, or control of the state
  • An employee of a state liquor store
  • The National Guard
  • Vaccines and toxoids

Similarly to the rules for suing the state, you can also sue a municipality, such as the local housing authority, if the accident involved:

  • A city-owned vehicle, such as a bus
  • Personal property in the care, custody, or control of the municipality
  • Real estate property in the care, custody, or control of the municipality
  • Trees, traffic controls, and street lighting in the care, custody, or control of the city
  • Dangerous conditions within utility service facilities
  • Streets left in dangerous condition
  • Animals that were in the custody, control, or care of the city

Limitations with Suing the Government

The biggest difference with lawsuits involving the government is that they have a much shorter time limit. Generally speaking, you have only 180 days to put the state or local municipality on notice of your claim.

You must file a Notice of Claim with the government body before filing a lawsuit. This provides the government agency with notice of the lawsuit, as well as the amount of damages you are seeking.

Cases involving a government body also have limitations on the amount of damages you can receive. You can receive no more than $250,000 in a case against the state, while you can recover as much as $500,000 in cases against the local municipalities.

Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers can Help with Complex Cases

Although there are many instances in which you can file a lawsuit against the government, you should not do it alone. These cases are incredibly complex and have many different procedural rules. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our Allentown personal injury lawyers can help. We understand these rules and also know that government agencies too, should be held accountable when they are negligent and cause someone harm. When you have been hurt, call us at (215) 486-0123 to schedule a free consultation.



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