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