Question

Can I sue a city or the state for a personal injury in Pennsylvania?

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Answered by: Lee Anthony Ciccarelli

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While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and local governments enjoy some protection under a law known as sovereign immunity, you do have the right to sue the state, municipalities and government agencies, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), for injuries caused by their negligence.

What is Sovereign Immunity?

After the American Revolution, our country adopted many of the traditions and policies of the British government. One of those is sovereign immunity. This is a judicial doctrine. It prevents the government and its agencies, departments and political wings from being sued without consent. It is part of an old English idea that the monarchy is never wrong.

Our early courts supported that view. Due to this, if someone had a contract or a tort claim against a government agency, they had very few legal options. To sue, an injured party had to convince Congress to pass a bill to recover damages. It was done case-by-case.

In 1885, the U.S. Court of Claims was established. This was a court that heard contract cases filed against the U.S. Additional courts have been established since that allow some nontort claims against the federal government. Sovereign immunity in cases that seek injunctions or nonmonetary relief against the government was waived in 1976.

However, different rules apply when you sue a government body. Under sovereign immunity in Pennsylvania, you must provide proper notice to the right governmental office (usually the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office) within six months of the injury. You also have to have proof that you supplied this notice. If you do not provide proper notice, you lose your right to file a personal injury lawsuit.

To ensure you provide proper notice to the correct party, you should consult with an attorney. If you wait too long, you will not be able to file a personal injury claim. You must also file the personal injury lawsuit within two years of the injury.

Examples of personal injury claims you can file against a municipality or governmental agency in Pennsylvania include:

  • Injuries on buses, trains and other public transport
  • Injuries caused by being struck by bus or train
  • Injuries caused by a governmental employee
  • Slips and falls caused by unsafe conditions on public property
  • Injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents that are caused by a person driving a government vehicle

You can collect for five types of damages: past/future loss of earnings and earning capacity; pain and suffering; medical/dental expenses; loss of consortium; and property losses (except property losses that involve dangerous conditions, including potholes and sinkholes on commonwealth properties).

Experienced Legal Assistance To Navigate the Difficulties

Suing a governmental entity for personal injury is challenging. If you suffered a personal injury (or someone died) due to negligence by a city or the state, you should put your case in the hands of an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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