When you're injured as a result of someone else's carelessness in Arizona, you usually have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit in order to get compensation for your losses. But what happens when the party that caused the injury is the state government or a state employee? For instance, what if if you are hit by a truck driven by a government worker, or you slip and fall in a government building?
Claims against the state government in Arizona are governed by the Arizona Tort Claims Act, which sets very specific rules for when, where, and how an injured person can seek damages from the state after an injury. We cover some of the key details of this law in the sections below.
Arizona's Tort Claims Act, which is codified starting at Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-820, dictates very specific rules about when an injured person may (or may not) file a claim against the government.
The statute also outlines situations in which the government has total immunity from lawsuits. This immunity, also known as "sovereign immunity," is based on a very old concept. It dates back to medieval England, when no citizen was allowed to sue the king for harm because it was assumed that "the king can do no wrong." Today, while every U.S. state still acknowledges the rule of sovereign immunity, most states have carved out exceptions to the rule, making it possible to seek damages from the government in some situations.
Generally speaking, a claim may be filed against the government if the agency or person who caused the harm could have been held liable for negligence if he or she had been acting privately. (Learn more about Negligence and Fault for an Accident.)
Arizona's statute contains a number of exceptions, however. Here are a few of the key instances in which a person may not sue the government for injury or loss:
In addition, government employees (and employers) cannot be sued in the following instances, unless the injured person can prove that the employee acted intentionally or with "gross negligence":
Arizona law specifies that while the immunities in the law do apply to public agencies and employees that hire contractors, they do not apply to the contractor. In other words, a contractor that caused one of the harms described above may be liable, even if the state cannot be held liable.
Claims must be filed in writing, with the agency allegedly responsible for the harm, within 180 days of the date of injury. The claim must include:
The state of Arizona provides claim forms online that contain space for the required information. If the claim is not filed within 180 days, the state will deny it, and a lawsuit may not be filed in court.
An exception exists for children under age 18 and people who have been determined to be "incompetent" by a court. If a person in one of these categories is injured, he or she has 180 days after they reach age 18 or are declared competent.
When a claim is filed, the state has 60 days to respond. If no response is sent within 60 days, the claim is automatically treated as denied. In that situation (and where an official claim denial is sent) the injured person is allowed to file his or her lawsuit in the state's courts.
While Arizona does not "cap," or limit, the total damages that may be awarded to an injured person in a claim against the state, it does prohibit courts from awarding punitive damages in these cases. Learn more about Personal injury Damages.
Many claims against the government actually involve local government entities, like county or city officials, rather than the state government. Claims against the local government in Arizona begin in the same way as claims against the state, with written notice filed with the local government agency involved. Some localities, like the City of Tempe, offer claim forms online.
It is important to double-check deadlines when filing a claim with a local government, as not all local governments use the same deadlines as the state.