If you slip and fall on government property, is the governmental entity responsible for your injuries? If the government was negligent in its maintenance and upkeep of the property, the answer is generally yes, except that there are two important limitations on an injured person’s right to sue a federal, state, or local governmental entity.
First, the federal government -- and most, if not all, states -- have strict notice and time deadlines for making a claim against a governmental entity. Second, the federal government and most states place a limit on how much you can recover from the state or a municipality if you win. Read on to learn more about making a slip and fall claim against the government.
The Government Entity Must Be Negligent
A governmental entity is only liable for a slip and fall accident on its property if:
- the government entity or an employee was somehow negligent, and
- that negligence caused your accident.
Simply because you fell on government property does not mean that the government authority that manages the property is legally liable. There had no have been an unsafe condition. Further, in order to prove that the governmental entity was negligent, you must prove that it knew or should reasonably have known of the unsafe condition. (Learn more: What is Negligence?)
Important Time and Notice Deadlines
The federal government and almost all states have strict rules that must be followed if you wish to file a claim or lawsuit against the government. The first rule is generally a notice requirement.
So, before you can sue the federal government, the state, or a municipality, you must generally file a formal notice of injury with the proper governmental entity. The federal government and each state might have different notice requirements, but the notice must typically include the following information:
- your name and address
- the date of the injury
- a precise summary of how the injury occurred
- a statement in which you claim that the governmental authority was negligent
- your allegation as to how the government’s negligence caused your injury
- a description of your injuries, and
- a description of your medical bills and other financial losses to date.
Depending on which government you wish to sue, the deadline for sending this notice could be as short as 30 days.
Learn more about Injury Claims Against the Federal Government.
You Must Send Notice to the Proper Governmental Entity
It is critical that you send the notice to the right office. Your claim may be barred if you send your notice to the wrong governmental office, even though it might just be down the hall from the right office. Moreover, you have to make sure that you make your claim against the proper governmental entity in the first place.
Let’s say, for example, that you slip on the sidewalk in front of a federal government building. You assume that the city owns the sidewalk, and so you give notice to the city, and only the city. But federal law, or the contract between the federal government and city for the use of the building, might state that it is the federal government, not the city, that owns the sidewalk in front of the federal building. In this case, the city would not be liable. If you didn’t give notice to the proper division of the federal government within the proper time period, your claim will be barred.
To make sure that you satisfy the proper notification requirements if you are injured on governmental property, contact the administrative offices of the relevant municipality. Make as many phone calls as necessary until you get the answers you need in terms of where and when to send notice. Or, you can always contact a personal injury lawyer.
Limits on Damages in Injury Claims Against the Government
These limits will also differ, depending on which governmental entity you are suing, but they can be very low, sometimes well under $100,000.
Proving Liability for a Slip and Fall on Government Property
As in any slip and fall case, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any bruises that you might have received as soon as you are able to do so. It cannot be emphasized enough that a picture is worth a thousand words in a slip and fall case. Broken sidewalks or stairs can be fixed. The condition of ice and snow can change within minutes. Ice can melt, or it can be cleared away. It can be difficult to impossible to win an ice and snow case without pictures showing the ice and snow as it was at the moment of your injury.
You should also report the incident immediately to someone in charge at the governmental property and ensure that a written report is filled out. You should also get the names of witnesses if there were any. If you injure yourself on governmental property and don’t report the accident immediately, it is very unlikely that you will succeed in your claim. For better or for worse, governments (and juries) tend to believe that unreported slip and fall accidents most likely did not occur. Learn more about Proving Fault for a Slip and Fall.