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 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.)
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:
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:
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.
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.