A personal injury lawsuit is the traditional legal avenue through which an injured person can seek compensation after an accident. But what if an injury is the fault of the government or one of its employees? Perhaps you slipped and fell in a city-owned building, or you were crossing the street when you were struck by a vehicle driven by a state employee. To succeed in an injury claim against the government in Kentucky, you’ll need to follow specific rules set out in the state's laws. In this article, we'll summarize those rules.
Claims against the state government in Kentucky are allowed by section 231 of the Kentucky Constitution. This section states that "The General Assembly may, by law, direct in what manner and in what courts suits may be brought against the Commonwealth."
Although this section is short, it is also powerful. It acts as a waiver to the rule of "sovereign immunity," which comes to the United States through the common law of England. Under the rule of sovereign immunity, U.S. citizens may not sue the government -- just as medieval English citizens could not sue the king -- even if they are harmed by the government's (or the king's) actions.
Every U.S. state acknowledges the old rule of sovereign immunity, but each state has also created certain exceptions to the rule, allowing injured persons to seek compensation from the government.
Kentucky Revised Statutes section 44.070 sets out the state’s rules for filing claims against the government. These claims are handled by the state’s Kentucky Claims Commission (formerly known as the Board of Claims), which hears claims related to "damages sustained to either person or property as a proximate result of negligence" by the state, its employees, or agencies.
Common types of claims the Kentucky Claims Commission hears include claims resulting from car accidents, premises liability accidents, medical malpractice, and property damage. If any of these claims results in death, the Kentucky Claims Commission may also consider the resulting wrongful death case.
The Kentucky Claims Commission rules prohibit the Commission from hearing certain types of injury claims. These include:
Even if a claim succeeds, the damages award can be reduced if the injured person is receiving workers’ compensation, Social Security disability payments, unemployment benefits, or payments or benefits from medical, disability, or life insurance that are related to the injury claim.
All claims filed against the state government in Kentucky must be filed within one year of the date of injury. If the claim is not filed within one year, the Kentucky Claims Commission will refuse to hear it.
The Kentucky Claims Commission has the power to investigate, examine evidence, hear from witnesses, and make decisions about injury claims that involve the state or its employees. Damages in these cases are "capped," or limited, to $200,000 per claim. If a single action gives rise to multiple claims (for instance, a car accident creates a claim for injury from two different family members, and a claim for property damage), the total amount of damages is capped at $350,000 for all the claims. If there is more than one injured claimant, the damages must be divided equally among them, and no one person may receive more than $200,000.
City, county, and other local governments in Kentucky each have their own processes for handling claims for damages. For instance, in Lexington, Kentucky, claims are handled by the city attorney’s office, which explains the process on its website. Many local and municipal governments provide forms for filing claims online or in their respective government offices.