Filing an Injury Claim Against the Government in New York

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

In New York, if someone else's negligence causes you harm -- whether it's through a car accident, a slip and fall, or some other mishap -- you have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit, assuming the at-fault person or entity is a private party. But what if you are injured through the government's negligence. For example, let's say you trip on a broken staircase at city hall? Bringing an injury claim against the government is a little different from a procedural standpoint in New York, and in this article we'll show you how it's done.

Suing the Government for Negligence in New York

In New York, injury claims against the government are covered by the New York Court of Claims Act. Article II, Section 8 of the Court of Claims Act says that the government "hereby waives its immunity from liability and action" and consents to be sued in court, under the same rules private individuals might use to sue one another.

What does this mean? In short, it means that injured persons may sue the state of New York for negligence, just as they would sue a private party. Section 8 waives the old rule of "sovereign immunity." Under this rule, which dates back to medieval England, individuals could not sue the king for wrongs, even if they had suffered losses as a result of the king's actions.

What Is (and Is Not) Covered Under New York's Court of Claims Act?

The New York Court of Claims Act allows the state to be sued in nearly any situation in which a private individual could be sued for negligence. Examples of claims that might be brought against the state, an agency, board, or commission might include:

  • Car accidents. If a state employee is negligently operating a motor vehicle while on state business, and he or she ends up causing a car accident, the injured person can hold the driver responsible in the Court of Claims. (Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.)
  • Defects in public buildings. If a dangerous or defective property condition exists in a public building -- such as broken flooring, wobbly handrails, or burned-out lightbulbs -- and state employees do not correct it or warn patrons within a reasonable time, a person who is injured by the condition may be able to seek compensation for the injury.
  • Medical care or treatment. Patients who are injured while receiving medical care from a state-run facility can generally seek compensation for medical negligence, just as they would if the facility were run by a private entity.
  • Other accidents caused by negligence. To prove the state's liability, the claimant must show that the state played a part in causing the injury. Usually that means showing that the state was negligent, meaning (1) the state owed a duty of reasonable care to the claimant, (2) that duty was breached, (3) causing the claimant's injuries, and (4) compensable damages (like medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering) resulted.

Special rules apply for cases filed against members of the military, as well as for prisoners seeking relief from unjust imprisonment. All claims against the state of New York or any part of its government must be filed in the state's Court of Claims.

Bringing A Claim Against a Local Government in New York

For many years, injured persons could not bring claims against municipal governments in New York, even if they could have brought the same claim against the state government. Courts in New York especially frowned upon claims alleging that the municipal government should have prevented a fire or a crime that led to injury.

In 2011, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that individuals may sue municipal governments in New York only if they can prove that the municipality had a "special duty" to the injured person. To prove a "special duty," the injured person must show that any one of these three things occurred:

  • the municipality or an employee violated a statutory duty enacted to protect a particular class of persons, and the injured person was in that class,
  • the municipality or an employee assumed "positive direction and control" in the face of a "known, blatant, and dangerous" safety violation, or
  • the municipality or an employee voluntarily took on a duty and communicated as much by actions or promises to the injured person, who justifiably relied on those actions or promises.

Many large metro areas in New York provide online instructions for filing claims against the local government. For example, check out Filing a Claim Against the City of New York, from the city's official site.

Time Limits for Bringing a Claim Against the Government in New York

Generally speaking, any claim filed in the New York Court of Claims must be filed within certain time limits, or it cannot be heard. These time limits include:

  • 90 days for claims for personal injury or injury to property
  • 6 months for claims of breach of contract, and
  • 3 years for claims of state appropriation of land.

If the claimant is under guardianship or another type of legal disability, the time limit for filing the claim is two years. Learn more about the New York State Court of Claims (NY.Gov).

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