Making an Injury Claim Against the Government in Michigan

By , Attorney University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
Updated 9/27/2023

When you're injured by someone else's negligence, filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit is one way to get compensation (called "damages") for your losses. But what if you're hurt by a state or local government or a government employee? For instance, suppose you trip and fall on a broken floor tile in the Michigan capitol building, or you're hit by a Washtenaw County vehicle while crossing the street.

In Michigan, the procedure for filing injury claims against the government is dictated by the Governmental Tort Liability Act (the Act). We'll look at some key aspects of the Act, including what it does (and doesn't) cover and some of the special rules and deadlines for filing a personal injury claim.

Michigan's Government Tort Liability Act

As a general rule, government agencies and the people who work for them are immune from liability (meaning not legally responsible) for torts—wrongful conduct that injures a person or their property—if they're performing a "governmental function." (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1407 (2023).) Government agencies include Michigan and its political subdivisions, like cities, counties, townships, and more. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1401(a) (2023).)

What's a "governmental function"? According to the Act, it's any action required or authorized by law. Perhaps not surprisingly, Michigan courts interpret this definition very broadly. As long as there is some basis in some law for the government's action, it will be treated as an immune "governmental function"—and thus be protected from a lawsuit.

What Does Immunity Mean for Your Personal Injury Claim?

In the simplest terms, immunity means that Michigan and its local governments aren't legally obligated to pay damages for injuries they cause. But there are some important exceptions to this rule. The exception we're concerned with here arises when the government "waives," or voluntarily gives up, its immunity.

In addition to declaring that Michigan and its political subdivisions are generally immune from liability, the Act also partially waives that immunity—but only in specific kinds of cases. To take advantage of this waiver, you must carefully follow the rules Michigan has created. Among other things, these rules:

  • only allow you to bring certain kinds of claims, and
  • require that you act quickly to notify the government of your claim.

What Claims Does the Act Allow?

The Act partially waives immunity—meaning it allows you to bring a personal injury claim—in seven categories of cases. Just as the immunity clause is read broadly, these exceptions are read narrowly.

Public highways exception. Michigan law requires any government agency with authority over a stretch of road to keep it "reasonably safe" for travel. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1402(1) (2023).)

This exception doesn't apply unless the government knew or should have known that the road was dangerous and had time to make repairs. When a dangerous condition exists and is readily apparent for at least 30 days prior to an injury, Michigan law presumes that the government knew about the danger and had enough time to fix it. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1403 (2023).)

Public sidewalks exception. A city, village, or township must keep any sidewalk that's adjacent to a road in "reasonable repair."

A person who claims injury under this exception must show that the government knew or should have known about the dangerous sidewalk at least 30 days before the injury happened, but failed to fix it. Michigan law presumes that the government reasonably maintains its sidewalks, and it's the injured person's burden to overcome that presumption with proof of a dangerous condition. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1402a (2023).)

Motor vehicle exception. Generally speaking, the government is responsible when an employee's negligent driving causes an injury. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1405 (2023).) Michigan is a no-fault auto insurance state, so a person who's injured by a government employee driver will have to satisfy the state's tort threshold before they can bring an injury claim.

Public buildings exception. Government agencies must keep buildings that are open to the public reasonably safe by repairing and maintaining them as necessary. The government is liable for injuries when:

  • the government knew or should have known about a building's dangerous condition, and
  • failed, within a reasonable time, to fix the danger or protect the public from it.

When a dangerous condition exists for at least 90 days before an injury occurs, Michigan law presumes that the government agency knew of the danger and had time to repair it. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1406 (2023).)

Medical malpractice exception. Government agencies aren't immune from lawsuits for medical negligence unless the treatment was provided in a hospital owned by the Michigan Department of Community Health or the Michigan Department of Corrections. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1407(4) (2023).) However, courts have held that county jail staff, community mental health agencies, and social workers may face liability.

Sewage disposal system exception. If a defect in a sewer, storm, or drain system isn't repaired in a reasonable time and it ends up causing injury, the government agency that owns or operates the system can face liability if it knew or should have known of the danger but didn't make needed repairs. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1417 (2023).)

Noneconomic damages for injuries like pain and suffering and emotional distress aren't allowed unless the defect causes death, serious impairment of a body function, or serious, permanent disfigurement. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1418 (2023).) The responsible government agency must be given written notice of a claim within 45 days after the injury was discovered or should have been discovered. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1419(1) (2023).)

Proprietary function exception. When the government's activities were "proprietary," meaning intended to make a monetary profit from something other than taxes or fees, the government isn't immune from liability for resulting injuries. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1413 (2023).)

How Long Do I Have to File a Claim Against the Government?

If you're hurt by the negligence of a government agency or government employee, you're not allowed to simply file a lawsuit. Instead, you first have to give the government written notice of your claim. If the government denies your claim and you still want to pursue it, then you're allowed to file a lawsuit.

Here are the claim notice deadlines.

Injury caused by dangerous roads or buildings. You must notify the responsible government agency within 120 days after the date you're injured. The notice must specify:

  • the exact location and nature of the dangerous condition you claim caused your injury
  • your injuries, and
  • the names of any witnesses you're aware of.

(See Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1404(1) (2023) (roads); Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1406 (2023) (buildings).)

The notice period is 180 days when the person injured by a dangerous road was under 18 years old at the time of injury. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1404(3) (2023).)

Any other claim against the State of Michigan. For any other claim against Michigan, you're required to file a written notice of your claim with the clerk of the Michigan Court of Claims (see below). The notice must be filed within 6 months from the date your claim "accrues," which is usually the date you were injured. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6431(4) (2023).)

Other claims against a local government. Be sure to check with the clerk or attorney for the local government to find out about claim filing requirements.

Deadline for filing a lawsuit. When the government denies your claim, the lawsuit deadline varies. For example, when you were injured because of a poorly maintained highway, you must file suit within two years from the date you were injured. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1411(2) (2024).) For other claims, you might have three years to sue. Consult with a Michigan lawyer for statute of limitations advice specific to your claim.

Filing a Claim Against Michigan or a Local Government

Claims against Michigan must be filed either with the State Administrative Board or with the Michigan Court of Claims. If your claim is for less than $1,000, file it with the State Administrative Board. Otherwise, file it with the Court of Claims. (See Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6419(1) (2023).)

To file with the State Administrative Board, fill out form DTMB-1104 and follow the instructions provided on the claims page. The Michigan Court of Claims also provides filing instructions on its website.

Every local government has its own rules for filing claims. For example, in Detroit, claims are handled by the city's Law Department. You'll find claim forms as well as instructions for what to include with each form, such as doctor's bills or verification of lost wages.

Next Steps

Getting compensation when you're injured by the government or a government employee can be tricky. You'll have to navigate special rules and deadlines that don't apply in other personal injury cases. The price of making a mistake can be high: You can lose your right to file a claim and collect damages for your injuries.

If you need help, think about hiring an experienced Michigan lawyer to handle your claim. Here's how to find an attorney near you.

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