Filing an Injury Claim Against the Government in Wisconsin

Learn about filing a personal injury lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin for personal injuries sustained from a state government entity or employee.

If you've been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence in Wisconsin, you have the option of bringing a  personal injury lawsuit  against that individual in Wisconsin's courts. But what happens if you are injured by the negligence of a government employee or agency? For example, let's say you are hit by a car driven by a government employee, or you trip and fall on a broken staircase in a government building. Can you just sue the government?

Filing a claim against the government  can be a complicated undertaking in any jurisdiction, and to do it successfully in Wisconsin, you’ll need to follow specific rules laid out in the state's code. Those rules also vary depending on whether your claim is against the state government or a local municipality. Read on for the details.

Injury Claims Against the State in Wisconsin

Injury claims brought against the state in Wisconsin must follow the rules laid out in  Wisconsin Statutes section 893.82. Generally speaking, tort (injury) claims against the state government in Wisconsin are not permitted unless they fall into specific exceptions created by the state legislature. They must also follow special notice rules that do not apply to tort claims against private parties.

(Note: The immunity granted to the state government in the Wisconsin Statutes is also known as "sovereign immunity," a centuries-old concept. Today, all states still acknowledge the old rule of sovereign immunity, but they have also conditionally waived it or created exceptions in their laws so that individuals can seek compensation for injuries in certain situations.)

What Claims Can Be Brought Against the Government in Wisconsin?

Section 893.82 of the Wisconsin Statutes says that "no civil action or civil proceeding" may be brought against the state government, its employees, or any non-profit that operates a historical museum under a lease with the state,  unless  certain conditions are met.

To bring a claim:

  • the injured person must file written notice with the attorney general, and
  • the claim must involve the kind of negligence and damages that can be addressed by the court.  Car accident  claims and  premises liability  claims (such as those stemming from a slip and fall), are two common types of negligence claims brought against state governments. Common damages in such cases include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.

How to File A Claim Against the State in Wisconsin

Any injury or tort claim against the state government in Wisconsin must begin with the injured person filing a written notice of the claim with the attorney general within  120 days  of the date of injury. The Wisconsin Department of Justice provides a  claim form  on its Web site that may help you organize your information and file your notice.

The written notice must include:

  • the time, date, and location of the event
  • the circumstances of the injury or property damage (a brief statement of what happened), and
  • the names of the people involved, including the name of the state employee, agent, or official involved.

Once notice is filed, the government will decide whether to pay the claim or to deny it. If the claim is denied, the injured person has  three years  to file the claim in court. If the claim is not filed within this time, it cannot be heard in court.

One exception exists to the notice requirement:  medical malpractice claims. In a medical malpractice claim against the state government, the injured person has  three years  from the date of the injury or  one year  from the date the injury was discovered (but no more than five years from the date of injury).

In all claims against the state government in Wisconsin, damages are "capped," or limited, to $250,000 "for any damages, injuries, or death in any civil action or civil proceeding" against a state officer, agent, or employee (or against a non-profit operating a museum under a lease with the state). In addition, punitive damages may not be awarded in claims against the state government in Wisconsin. Learn more about  Personal Injury Damages.

Claims Against Local Governments in Wisconsin

Injury claims against local or municipal governments in Wisconsin follow rules that are similar to those for claims against the state. Generally speaking, local units of government have immunity from claims for intentional or discretionary acts, but not for negligent acts.

Like claims against the state government, claims against a local government must begin with filing written notice with the local government within  120 days  of the date the injury occurred. Several municipalities, including the  City of Milwaukee, make written claim forms available on their Web sites or in government offices.

Damages in a claim against a local government may not exceed $50,000, or $25,000 if the action is against a volunteer fire company.

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