In Ohio, as in every state, when someone else’s negligence causes you any kind of harm, filing a personal injury lawsuit is a clear option for getting compensation for your losses. But what if you are injured by a government entity or a government employee in Ohio? For example, what if you slip and fall in a government building, or you are hit by a city bus? You might attempt to file an injury claim against the government -- but there are strict procedures for doing so under the Ohio Court of Claims Act. Read on to learn the details.
Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2743 sets out the rules for bringing an injury claim (called an "award of reparations") after an accident in which the state or one of its employees might be liable.
First, section 2743.02 of the ORC waives the state’s immunity from liability and says that the state consents to be sued for negligence in court in the same ways that a private party could be sued.
However, the statute also limits the ways in which the government can be sued, so this “waiver” of immunity is not as broad as it looks. Section 2743.03(A)(3)(a) says that, in order to bring a lawsuit against the state, the injured person must have a “special relationship” to the government. (We’ll talk about what counts as a “special relationship” below.) It also says that the claim must be filed in the state's Court of Claims -- not in a county or municipal court (as you would with a standard personal injury claim).
State immunity is based on a very old rule: the rule of “sovereign immunity," which dates back to medieval England, when the law prevented people from suing the king for various acts or decisions -- even if those acts or decisions ended up harming individuals.
While the Ohio Court of Claims Act says that Ohio’s governments are immune from liability, it also declares that liability to be waived -- so that an injured person can hold the government liable -- if the injured person has a “special relationship” with the state.
So, what is a “special relationship”? According to Section 2743.03(A)(3)(b), a special relationship exists if all of the following things are true:
Ohio courts have determined that “state” includes not only the state government of Ohio, but all departments, boards, offices, commissions, agencies, and institutions that are run by the state. For instance, courts have allowed persons injured in police altercations to file suit against the state, on the theory that law enforcement is a state function and that, by intervening in the situation, the police had assumed an affirmative duty to avoid negligently injuring the persons involved. (Learn more about Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.)
The Ohio Court of Claims decides disputes over whether or not a “special relationship” exists. It is also the only court that handles cases in which the State of Ohio is a party. Appeals from the Ohio Court of Claims are heard by the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Columbus, the state’s capitol. However, if the matter is a civil case for $10,000 or less, or an appeal made by a crime victim, the decision of the Court of Claims is considered final.
In addition, injured persons may sue state hospitals in Ohio just as they would a hospital run by a private entity. They are not required to meet the four-part “special relationship” test in order to bring the lawsuit.
As we've discussed, claims involving the state are filed in the Ohio Court of Claims. But what if you are injured by a county or municipal government official, or while on county or municipal property?
Each locality in Ohio has its own rules for filing a claim against the government in charge. For example:
Generally speaking, you have two years from the date of injury to file a claim for negligence against the state government in Ohio. However, check carefully. If your injury claim would be subject to a shorter statutory time limit if it were brought as an ordinary civil lawsuit (under the relevant statute of limitations), that shorter time limit also applies to a case filed in the Court of Claims.