Making an Injury Claim Under Michigan's Governmental Tort Liability Act

When you are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, filing a personal injury lawsuit against them in court is one option for getting compensation for your losses. But what if you are injured by a government entity or a government employee? For instance, let's say you trip and fall on a broken floor tile in the state’s capitol building, or you are hit by a county vehicle while crossing the street. It's not so easy to file an injury lawsuit against the government.

In Michigan, the procedure for filing injury claims against the government is dictated by the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). In this article, we’ll look at some key aspects of the GTLA, including what it does (and does not) cover, and how to file a claim against a county, city, or other local government.

Michigan Laws on Suing the Government For Negligence

The Governmental Tort Liability Act appears in Michigan Compiled Laws Chapter 691. The Act states that, as a general rule, government agencies -- and the people who work for them -- are immune to liability for torts "if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function."

But what is a "governmental function"? The GTLA defines it as "an activity that is expressly or impliedly mandated or authorized" by some law. Perhaps not surprisingly, this definition is treated very broadly by Michigan courts. As long as there is some basis in some law for the government's action, it will be treated as a "governmental function" -- and thus be protected from a lawsuit.

This rule is commonly known as the rule of "sovereign immunity," and it has a very old heritage. It dates back to medieval England, where the law prevented people from suing the king for various wrongs.

What Is -- And Is Not -- Covered Under Michigan's GTLA?

While the GTLA states that governments in Michigan cannot be held liable for torts arising from a "governmental function," it also says that there are exceptions to this rule. Just as the immunity clause is read broadly, these exceptions are read narrowly. They include:

  • Maintenance of public highways. Michigan law requires any government agency with authority over a stretch of road to keep it "reasonably safe and convenient for public travel."
  • Negligently operating a government-owned motor vehicle. Generally speaking, Michigan government entities are responsible when an employee's negligent driving causes an injury. (Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.) However, only the person who was injured may be compensated for the harm caused. These claims must also meet the requirements of the Michigan No-Fault Act in order to be heard in court.
  • Defects in public buildings. To make a claim under this exception, the injured person must show that a government agency was involved, the building was open to the public, a dangerous or defective property condition existed, and that despite having actual or constructive notice of the defect, the agency failed to fix it after a reasonable time. The injured person must give the agency notice of the defect before filing the lawsuit.
  • Medical care or treatment provided to patients. Government agencies are not immune to lawsuits for medical negligence unless the care or treatment was provided in a hospital owned by the Michigan Department of Community Health or Department of Corrections. However, courts have held that county jail staff, community mental health agencies, and social workers may face liability.
  • Sewage disposal system events. If a defect in a sewer, storm, or drain system is not repaired in a reasonable time and it ends up causing injury as a result, the entity that owns or operates the system may face liability if it knew or should have known of the defect, yet did not fix it. The injured person must also show that the defect was a “substantial cause” of the injury -- that is, that the defect was 50 percent or more to blame.
  • Performance of a proprietary government function. To hold a government agency liable under this exception, the injured person must show that the government’s actions were intended to make a monetary profit from something other than taxes or fees.

Filing a Claim Against a State or Local Government

Claims against the state must be filed either with the State Administrative Board or with the Michigan Court of Claims. If the claim is for less than $1,000, it must be filed with the State Administrative Board; otherwise, it must be filed with the Court of Claims.

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

Every local government has its own set of rules for filing claims against it. For example, in Detroit, claims are handled by the city's Claims Section. Forms are available on the Claims Section website, where you'll also find instructions for what to include with the form, such as doctor’s bills or verification of lost wages.

How Long Do I Have to File a Governmental Tort Claim?

A government tort claim in Michigan must be filed within the time limits set by law, which are:

  • 120 days to file a formal claim regarding defects in a highway or public building.
  • 6 months to file a formal claim against the state.
  • 2 years to file a lawsuit against the state (if your claim is rejected).

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